Does anyone else find it odd that Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love and Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog -- two works that both make several allusions to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat -- came out within one year of one another, in 1997 and 1998, respectively? What was going on in the space-time continuum in the late '90s to make that happen?
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Oh my goodness, this book is wonderful. It reads like Tom Stoppard and A.S. Byatt had a love child and then brought that baby up on a diet of classic screwball comedies (including Bringing Up Baby). It’s a time-travel story whose romantic elements are sweet and charming, rather than tragically tear-jerking. It will even appeal to both cat-lovers and dog-lovers.
I read To Say Nothing of the Dog during a difficult and stressful time in my life, and I couldn’t imagine a more congenial companion. The mystery is absorbing, but the overall tone is lighthearted. I could tell that nothing really bad would happen to the characters and that there’d be a happy ending, even if I couldn’t predict how all the threads would come together.
And there are a lot of threads: Victorian decor; literary allusions; discussions of historical causality; the Nazi fire-bombing of Coventry Cathedral; human and animal behavior; the stability, or lack thereof, of the space-time continuum; and plenty of comic hijinks and wry asides. The protagonist, time-traveling historian Ned Henry, is a likable fellow who nonetheless makes for an amusingly unreliable narrator, at least when he’s suffering from “time-lag” in the first part of the book.
To Say Nothing of the Dog tends to be shelved in the sci-fi section of the bookstore, and the paperback boasts ugly, incomprehensible cover art. Which means there’s a chance that readers who don’t consider themselves “sci-fi fans” may overlook this book, and that’s a shame. If you’re a nerdy Anglophile who appreciates obscure history and wishes you had a time machine so you could go back to the past and look around – something that describes many of my friends – you will love this book.
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