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To Say Nothing of the Dog Hardcover – January 1, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 663 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a science-fiction fantasy in the guise of an old-fashioned Victorian novel, complete with epigraphs, brief outlines, and a rather ugly boxer in three-quarters profile at the start of each chapter. Or is it a Victorian novel in the guise of a time-traveling tale, or a highly comic romp, or a great, allusive literary game, complete with spry references to Dorothy L. Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle? Its title is the subtitle of Jerome K. Jerome's singular, and hilarious, Three Men in a Boat. In one scene the hero, Ned Henry, and his friends come upon Jerome, two men, and the dog Montmorency in--you guessed it--a boat. Jerome will later immortalize Ned's fumbling. (Or, more accurately, Jerome will earlier immortalize Ned's fumbling, because Ned is from the 21st century and Jerome from the 19th.)

What Connie Willis soon makes clear is that genre can go to the dogs. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a fine, and fun, romance--an amused examination of conceptions and misconceptions about other eras, other people. When we first meet Ned, in 1940, he and five other time jumpers are searching bombed-out Coventry Cathedral for the bishop's bird stump, an object about which neither he nor the reader will be clear for hundreds of pages. All he knows is that if they don't find it, the powerful Lady Schrapnell will keep sending them back in time, again and again and again. Once he's been whisked through the rather quaint Net back to the Oxford future, Ned is in a state of super time-lag. (Willis is happily unconcerned with futuristic vraisemblance, though Ned makes some obligatory references to "vids," "interactives," and "headrigs.") The only way Ned can get the necessary two weeks' R and R is to perform one more drop and recuperate in the past, away from Lady Schrapnell. Once he returns something to someone (he's too exhausted to understand what or to whom) on June 7, 1888, he's free.

Willis is concerned, however, as is her confused character, with getting Victoriana right, and Ned makes a good amateur anthropologist--entering one crowded room, he realizes that "the reason Victorian society was so restricted and repressed was that it was impossible to move without knocking something over." Though he's still not sure what he's supposed to bring back, various of his confederates keep popping back to set him to rights. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a shaggy-dog tale complete with a preternaturally quiet, time-traveling cat, Princess Arjumand, who might well be the cause of some serious temporal incongruities--for even a mouser might change the course of European history. In the end, readers might well be more interested in Ned's romance with a fellow historian than in the bishop's bird stump, and who will not rejoice in their first Net kiss, which lasts 169 years! --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

From Booklist

What a stitch! Willis' delectable romp through time from 2057 back to Victorian England, with a few side excursions into World War II and medieval Britain, will have readers happily glued to the pages. Rich dowager Lady Schrapnell has invaded Oxford University's time travel research project in 2057, promising to endow it if they help her rebuild Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by a Nazi air raid in 1940. In effect, she dragoons almost everyone in the program to make trips back in time to locate items--in particular, the bishop's bird stump, an especially ghastly example of Victorian decorative excess. Time traveler Ned Henry is suffering from advanced time lag and has been sent, he thinks, for rest and relaxation to 1888, where he connects with fellow time traveler Verity Kindle and discovers that he is actually there to correct an incongruity created when Verity inadvertently brought something forward from the past. Take an excursion through time, add chaos theory, romance, plenty of humor, a dollop of mystery, and a spoof of the Victorian novel, and you end up with what seems like a comedy of errors but is actually a grand scheme "involving the entire course of history and all of time and space that, for some unfathomable reason, chose to work out its designs with cats and croquet mallets and penwipers, to say nothing of the dog. And a hideous piece of Victorian artwork." Sally Estes --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 493 pages
  • Publisher: Turtleback; School & Library ed. edition (January 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0613152425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0613152426
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 1.3 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (663 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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By A Customer on September 7, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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Format: Mass Market Paperback
_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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