To Say Nothing of the Dog
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171 of 180 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2001
It isn't often that I read a book for the first time and it instantly becomes one of my favorites. "To Say Nothing of the Dog" did that, though. I love this novel!
Connie Willis flawlessly combines so many elements in this book: It's part mystery novel, part sci-fi, part time-travel drama, part Victorian romance, part comedy. The characters and situations are extremely funny, but at the same time, there is a deep and serious plot going on.
Ned Henry goes back to the Victorian era to get some rest -- he is time-lagged from going back and forth from 2057 to 1940 to locate an ugly piece of Victorian art. But, he also has an important mission to complete in 1888. Verity Kindle, a fellow time-traveler, inadvertently brought something back from the past. Ned and Verity must put things right before the course of history is changed and the space-time continuum breaks down. Ms. Willis portrays the worlds of 2057, 1940 and 1888 with equal ease and vivid descriptions.
There is mystery (Why was Verity able to bring what she did through the time-travel apparatus? What was it? How does it relate to the Bishop's Bird Stump? What is the Bishop's Bird Stump and why is it important?). There is science fiction (More about the "net" and how it works than in Doomsday Book). And, there is comedy. Ms. Willis' witty characterizations are reminiscent of Oscar Wilde or Jane Austen (Tossie is Cecily from The Importance of Being Earnest. Colonel and Mrs. Mering are Mr. and Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice.) Ned is hysterical as he struggles through an era he knows nothing about.
Fans of Doomsday Book will enjoy the return of Dunworthy and Finch. But, in my opinion, To Say Nothing of the Dog is much better than Doomsday Book.
I couldn't put this book down, and I was extremely satisfied with the ending. All the mysteries are solved and the facts are presented -- but a twist at the end leaves a new mystery unsolved. A fantastic book! I hope for more time-travel novels from Connie Willis.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 1999
The only problem I could find with this book is its unfortunate ability to make me snort loudly in public places. Continually diminishing social life aside, this is by far the funniest, smartest novel I have ever read. Willis expertly juggles chaos theory, time travel, a period novel, a romance novel, a sci-fi piece, and assorted fauna, and yet maintains coherence throughout. Details connect wonderfully, sneaking up on you from behind as pieces fall into place. But, more than just being a romp among the Victorians--which it is--To Say Nothing of the Dog is informed with a steadily growing deep view of the universe. It is a book about the incredible interconnected complexity of the world, where every detail matters, where no one and nothing is really insignificant. It is rare and wondrous to find a comedy with a spiritual dimension, a joyous book of philosophy. Thought is not sacrificed for humor. To avoid this book would be like avoiding life. It overflows with joy and insight. After re-reading it, I feel enriched.
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53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2000
I swear, Connie Willis must collect awards for fun and profit. I've loved everything of hers that I've read, but this was the first, and still one of my favorites. She's managed to write a historical novel/romance/comedy/mystery/scifi story in one impeccable volume. While trying to unravel the various paradoxes of time travel, you're treated to the inanities of Victorian England, which can (and probably will) have you laughing out loud. With the mystery of the drowned cat, and the atrocity that is the Bishop's Bird Stump, among other things, she keeps you tied to the book up until the end - just when you think everything is sorted out, we find that we're all wrong. Ms. Willis pays perfect homage to the great writers of the past as well, so opick up some Christie and Jerome K. Jerome while you're at it. Highly recommended....
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69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2000
_To Say Nothing of the Dog_ takes place in the same time-traveling world that Willis describes in _Doomsday Book_, but is much, MUCH more lighthearted in tone.
Ned Henry, a time traveler of the 21st century, is sent to the Victorian Age for some badly needed rest.
He doesn't find it. Instead he is drawn into a mission with fellow historian Verity Kindle: stop history from altering itself AND find the most hideous of all hideous Victorian monstrosities, the bishop's bird stump.
This fabulous novel, while at heart always SFF, is also a mystery, romance, comedy-of-manners, and adventure at the same time. With plenty of allusions to Jerome K. Jerome, Agatha Christie, Wilkie Collins (and a spoiler for _The Moonstone_!), and Dorothy L. Sayers, as well as unforgettable secondary characters like Lady Shrapnell, Cecil, and Lady Arjumand, you will find yourself finishing this 400+ page book in record time.
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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2000
I bought this book based on the fact that it won the Hugo and Nebula awards and the rave reviews written here. Although I found the book entertaining, I think that the over the top accolades this book seems to be receiving are indicative of the large numbers of below average novels that regularly appear on the sci-fi shelves. I say this not as a naysayer of science fiction novels, but rather as a fustrated fan. It can be difficult wading through all the "really bad sci fi books" and finding a gem. "To Say Nothing of the Dog" is impressive for the details about Victorian and WWII era England. It almost got a bit annoying after a while because it seemed that Willis was throwing in minute details to demonstrate her research and not really adding to the story. I ran into the same problems years ago when I read Willis' Doomsday Book. I would characterize the novel as more of a mystery/period piece/romance rather than a science fiction novel. Entertaining.... but calm down people!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
As you can tell from the title of my review, this is going to be a positive review! I'll tell honestly any problems I think the book has, but frankly, there aren't many. This book is one of the very few that SUCCESSFULLY combines humor, romance, and science fiction all in one book. I loved this book because the characters are so real, even if they aren't swashbuckling heroes or evil, power-hungry villains, or strange, fascinating aliens. I really enjoy hard-core science fiction, but this book was so enjoyable, so funny, so enthralling, that it shot to the top of my list.

I won't summarize the plot here, but I'll mention a few interesting points: one, the whole premise of the book involves time-travel. In the late 21st century, time travel has been invented; but because you can only travel to places and times where your presence cannot affect the future, time-travel can't be exploited for gain. So time-travel is really only interesting to historians. This allows Willis to set her story at Oxford, with a bunch of characteristically nerdy historians and academics as the main characters.

Second, the plot revolves in many ways around the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral, sponsored by an absolutely rabid, rich old lady that due to her large donations to the History Department, has been able to commandeer the services of every time-traveling historian to serve her purposes. Add in a beautiful, young, lady historian; a dashing young, naïve, confused male historian, and a cat that has potentially destroyed the space-time continuum and you have all the makings of a great story. Another interesting point is that the book was in many ways inspired by one of the very few Victorian comedies, "Three Men in a Boat"...to say nothing of the dog..... (the fourth companion). You don't have to have read the other book, but it does add to the enjoyment as is quite funny in its own right.

As for problems with the book: there aren't many, but I have heard many complain that the first part of the book drags a bit. I can understand why, though it didn't for me. At a minimum, though, please be prepared to stick with it, because the very beginning of the book is seen through the eyes of Ned, who is going bonkers from too much time travel AND is exploring the destroyed Coventry Cathedral. So the first few pages are confusing both because Ned is confused AND because of the all the Church terminology: nave, apse, and so on. But it is WORTH it! I promise! Another possible complaint is the constant revisiting of the plot by the characters. The characters are faced with one of those classic time-travel problems; you know, the whole, if I went back in time and killed my grandfather-type problems, and they are desperately trying to sort it out. So they spend a lot of time running through the scenarios. That could get tedious (again, didn't for me). Finally, one long-running prop in the novel is something called the Bishop's Bird stump, which the characters are familiar with, and talk about throughout the novel, but the reader is in the dark until the end. That was a little annoying.

Seriously, though, this novel won the Hugo for a reason. It is well-paced, funny, smart, clever, and even sappily romantic in a way that touched even me, someone who normally prefers Glen Cook's gritty violence. I could not recommend this book more highly and the author, Connie Willis. I've read everything she's written and have NEVER been disappointed.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2000
Anytime I read something truly incredible (as this book is) I have this depressing feeling that it will take at least a couple of years to run into something that good. I will not repeat everything that's already been written in the reviews below, but one thing needs to be said. Sci-fi is the only genre that gives authors FULL freedom to express themselves. Connie knows it and it shows. Easily in the TOP 5 of my all time favorite sci-fi novels.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 1999
Don't be turned off if you're not a science fiction reader (although I do enjoy it myself). To Say Nothing Of The Dog is set in the same universe (a university history department of Time Travel in slightly-future England) as Willis' Doomsday Book, but this is happier, funnier, lighter and more cleverly plotted. It's a fun and absorbing read with a good mystery and it's just so _smart_. I don't know why Willis isn't more famous. I think she needs to get off the SF shelf where hard SF geeks don't appreciate her and others avoid her. I agree with the reviewers who said that you will want to share this one with friends. It's so fun that you will want to discuss it with someone the minute you finish it! One more thing - don't be turned off by the reviews that say this book is funny. I can usually tell that I will hate a book when other people tell me it's funny. But this is different. Just give it a try!
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2000
While I loved The Doomsday Book for its suspense and dark tone, I loved To Say Nothing of the Dog for its humor and lightness. Both books kept me reading for different reasons. In To Say Nothing of the Dog I kept trying to figure out how the characters were going to fix the mess they had made. Even if you are not a science fiction fan you would enjoy this book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2000
Last week just before I left for St. Lucia, an island in the Caribbean, I stopped by a bookstore (...) to pick up some last minute reading material. After picking up some books I made my way back to the check-out line, but paused at a nearby display of paperbacks. The title of one book had caught my eye.
"To say nothing of the dog", I said to myself. I repeated it a few more times, each time stressing a different word. To say NOTHING of the dog. To say nothing of the DOG.
I had never heard of the book, the author, or of the book from which the title of this book was taken. I bought the book merely because the TITLE caught my eye. I didn't know what I was in for.
The clerk at the register told me I would love it. Now I'm telling you, you'll love it.
Once I opened it on the plane I was hooked. I had to force myself to only read a few chapters each day on the beach or by the pool, so I wouldn't spend my vacation indoors merely reading a book.
I won't rehash the plot, other reviewers have done that for you.
I will say that Connie Willis has skillfully combined characters, pace, plot, and humor. Everything comes together in the end.
Too many of the reviews these days complain that the pace was too slow or the book did not change his/herlife. Whats's wrong with just enjoying a nicely contrived and convoluted humorous mystery? In fact, is there anything wrong with reading it again? I'm doing that now---sort of like seeing the SIXTH SENSE for the second time. I read a page and say to myself "of course".
So should you read it? The answer is elementary---of course!
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