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Oxford Time Travel #2

To Say Nothing of the Dog

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Connie Willis' Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book uses time travel for a serious look at how people connect with each other. In this Hugo-winning companion to that novel, she offers a completely different kind of time travel adventure: a delightful romantic comedy that pays hilarious homage to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned's holiday anything but restful - to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.

512 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published December 1, 1997

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About the author

Connie Willis

286 books4,123 followers
Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis is an American science fiction writer. She is one of the most honored science fiction writers of the 1980s and 1990s.

She has won, among other awards, ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards. Willis most recently won a Hugo Award for All Seated on the Ground (August 2008). She was the 2011 recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).

She lives in Greeley, Colorado with her husband Courtney Willis, a professor of physics at the University of Northern Colorado. She also has one daughter, Cordelia.

Willis is known for her accessible prose and likable characters. She has written several pieces involving time travel by history students and faculty of the future University of Oxford. These pieces include her Hugo Award-winning novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog and the short story "Fire Watch," found in the short story collection of the same name.

Willis tends to the comedy of manners style of writing. Her protagonists are typically beset by single-minded people pursuing illogical agendas, such as attempting to organize a bell-ringing session in the middle of a deadly epidemic (Doomsday Book), or frustrating efforts to analyze near-death experiences by putting words in the mouths of interviewees (Passage).

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Profile Image for carol..
1,537 reviews7,877 followers
December 9, 2017
If ever there was a symphony as book (Beethoven's 8th?), it would be this one. Like a symphony, To Say Nothing is a wonderful composite that is almost impossible to deconstruct. In many books, there might be a chapter that stands out, whether due to brilliance or failure; this is largely a harmonious, excellently written whole, with only one or two incongruous passages near the end.

Then there's the writing: amazingly developed and interwoven, it takes a number of disparate themes and juxtaposes them. Like a flute soaring above the rest of the orchestra, there are playful little giggles throughout, largely due to reoccurring motifs. Particular favorites include Ned's bemusement at hearing anarchoristic words ("poppycock" and "drat"), unfortunate couples that end in disaster, Ned's inability to read a Roman numeral pocket watch ("I dozed off again at half past V") and the fickleness of cats. There are serious undertones, and a sense of urgency; the characters need to achieve their personal mission, but are also extremely concerned about their detrimental impact on history. And, to be completely honest, like a symphony, one needs to be in the mood and willing to pay attention, otherwise it just becomes so much soporific background noise.

The almost-impossible summary: in the year 2057, Lady Schrapnell (is there a more perfectly named character?) has come to England, determined to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, where her exponentially-great grandmother experienced a life-changing event. In her zeal, she's determined to make every detail perfect ("God is in the details") and has enlisted the Temporal Physics department of the University to make it happen. The story is told by temporal historian Ned Henry, who has most recently been in 1940, looking through the burned ruins of the Cathedral for the 'bishop's bird stump,' a hideous paragon to the lack of Victorian taste ("It did, however, have twining ivy and a bas-relief of either Noah's ark or the battle of Jericho.") His partner pulls him back to normal time when it is discovered he's suffering from time lag, evidenced by "one of the first symptoms of time-lag is a tendency to maudlin sentimentality, like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold-sober." His interview in the Infirmary always makes me laugh ("Infirmary nurses usually resemble something out of the Spanish Inquisition, but this one had an almost kindly face, the sort an assistant torturer... might have.")

Ned is sent to 1888 with the dual purpose of recovering in the pastoral Victorian English countryside and returning an object to 1888 restore an incongruity and preserve the historical timeline. He meets an Oxford undergrad, Terence, and takes a idyllic boat ride down the Thames with him, only to discover Terence is intent on meeting a new infatuation, Lady Schrapnell's great(s)-grandmother, Tossie. While she has not attained the bossy demeanor of Lady S., she nonetheless has almost everyone falling in line with her ridiculous plans that include a seance and a jumble sale.

What follows is a comedy of errors as the time-traveling historians attempt to keep the young would-be lovers separated. The historians are convinced Tossie needs to fall in love with an unknown man with the initial 'C' and begin combing the countryside for eligible (and not-so-eligible) bachelors. Accompanying them is a genuine Oxford don distracted by fish and history, a tenacious and fierce bulldog named Cyril, and a black cat. As cats are extinct in the modern era, poor Ned is particularly unskilled in managing them:

"I set her down, and she walked a few feet across the grass and then took off like a shot and disappeared round the corner of a wall.
I told you so, Cyril said.
"Well, don't just stand there. Go after her," I said.
Cyril continued sitting.
He had a point. Our chasing after her in the woods hadn't been a roaring success. "Well, what do you suggest then?"
He lay down, his muzzle against the milk bottle, and it wasn't a bad idea."

A caveat: this is not hard or traditional science-fiction. The most science fiction-like aspect supposes that time travel is possible, but only in ways that don't effect the past or allow travelers to bring objects into the future. The field is known as temporal physics, and it while it is still being explored, incongruities--artificial changes to the timeline--could "theoretically could alter the course of history, or if it were severe enough, destroy the universe." Luckily for us, the universe is self-repairing, and has lines of defense that might manifest as an increase in coincidental events. We learn this in brief scenes between the time travelers and it's artfully done.

Characterization is wonderfully done. The historians are well-developed and multi-dimensional. I confess I especially love Cyril, who is completely dog-like but provides a silent foil for Ned's thoughts.

While I recognize the style and pace won't appeal to everyone, especially the action-adventure reader, I'm ridiculously fond of this book. I've re-read it numerous times, especially when I want to be in a book holding pattern, reading something familiar and enjoyable that didn't keep me up until 2 a.m. reading. I've read it so many times that I find myself quoting it, even if no one else gets my references. In fact, I once slightly embarrassed myself by exclaiming, "a genuine Oxford don!" courtesy of the passage, "I sat there watching him examine the fish and marvelling at what we'd caught. A genuine eccentric Oxford don. They're an extinct species, too." Well, he was a genuine eccentric don, after all--he studied voodoo and death practices.

Anyone who reads my reviews knows I have a fondness for the well-turned phrase, but while I often smile reading this book, the humor is built up over repeating passages rather than the the standard quip. This is gentle, suspenseful, silly, romantic and sophisticated reading. Filled with literary references and philosophizing on the importance of individuals in history versus scientific principles, someone with a classic background might best appreciate the wide-ranging references, but despite my own infirm education, I didn't find them inaccessible. If you enjoy Bertie Wooster, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Lord Peter mysteries, history, gentle comedic romance and literary references, the sly wit in this book will keep you entertained.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2012/1...

Re-read March, 2016
March 21, 2023
And the moral of this rererererereread is: this book is perfection and the audio version is everything. That is all.

P.S. The only thing that is missing from this book is the Empress of Blandings. Pretty sure she'd get along famously with pwecious dearum Juju and Cyril.
P.S. I want a penwiper for Christmas. Preferably one that meows and purrs and stuff.

👋 Until next time.

[October 2018]

· Previous rating: 5 stars *eyerolls at her 2015 Self of Despicable Book Taste and Total Lack of Judgement*
· New rating: 20 million stars. And a half.

And the moral of this rerererererereread is: Connie Willis’ amazingly clever writing + one of the most beautifully constructed tale ever + the top ranking boyfriend in my High Security Harem (aka Cyril the Bulldog) + time travel + restful Victorian times delightfully wacky Victorian escapades + PG Wodehouse + awesome space-time continuum incongruities and self-corrections and stuff + hahahahaha + the very aptly named Lady Shrapnell + Difficulty Distinguishing Sounds + Agatha Christie and my boyfriend Hercule Poirot + exotic Japanese goldfish (or the lack thereof) + high explosive bombs + deliciously eccentric Oxford dons + calamities who look like naiads (and vice-versa) + Slowness in Answering + infirmary nurses and the Spanish Inquisition + the regulations of animals in bed + aged relicts (and not-so-aged ones, too) + Ultra + Maudlin Sentimentality + eating vile, unspeakable Victorian things for breakfast + the Blitz + Couples That Come To A Bad End + naughty bad doggums vs. deawest, dearum, pwecious Juju + cats and cabs and fans, oh my + Dorothy L. Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey + slightly exasperating, spoiled Victorian brats+ Disorientation + Mrs. Chattisbourne’s ever-giggling flower garden + the Enigma machine + cat-induced suffocation + Napoleon’s hemorrhoids + butler pinching + chaos theory + the bird Luftwaffe + the somewhat hideous bishop’s bird stump + I could go on and on but you might as well read the book, it might prove a little bit more time-efficient and stuff =

This is me, disguised as Cyril the Bulldog and being deliriously happy. Just so you know.

And the other moral of this rerererererereread is: I really suck at reviewing this book. QED and stuff.

P.S. The best review you will ever read for this book is here. You are quiet welcome, Comely Decapods Mine.
P.P.S. Penwiper, anyone?

[Pre-non-review nonsense]

Review to come and stuff. Oh, may I leave Cyril the Bulldog with you while I write it? He's really super cool, I promise.

See what I mean? Coolest dog ever. He also happens to be Mostest Awesomest Literary Dog That Ever Was And Ever Will Be (MALDTEWAEWB™), so you better take good care of him while I'm away. But hey, no pressure and stuff. It's not like I'll unleash the murderous crustaceans on you if you suck at baby-sitting him and stuff.

[May 2015]

Surprising as it may be, this is not going to be one of my overly formatted, nonsensical, gif-filled reviews. This will be a long, very boring review that will not do this book justice. Quite a few digressions to be expected, too. There will be no silly fangirling involved either. My love for this book goes beyond that.

If I had to choose 3 books to take with me to a desert island this would be one of them. I love it more with every reread. Why? Because it's the improbable mix of three of the things I love the most. And as improbable as the mix is, it works. Because Connie Willis is an amazing writer. No, strike that. Simply saying she's an amazing writer doesn't even begin to cover it. There are not enough words to express how much I love her and every book she ever wrote. I could reread each and every one of them over and over again and never get bored (except maybe from All Clear, which was the sad exception to my I'm-Desperately-In-Love-With-Anything-Connie-Willis-Ever-Wrote-Writes-And-Will-Write condition). To get to the point: Connie Willis = Sheer Brilliance ← yes, I lied when I said there would be no fangirling to be had in this review. It might not be silly but it's there.

At this point you might be wondering what that improbable mix of three of the things I love the most I mentioned above is. Then again, probably not. But hey, I started writing this review so I might as well get on with it. And I guess I should issue a warning at this point, because I'm going to talk about my grandmother. Yes, my grandmother. I never get personal in my reviews but this book wouldn't be one of my all-time favourites had it not been for my grandmother. So I want to tell you a few things about her. Because she's the one who introduced me to those Famous Three Things that make me love this book so much.

My grandmother was French Canadian. She was born in 1910 and stayed in love with the 1930s and 1940s of her youth until her dying day. The movies, the stars, the fashion, she loved it all. When I was growing up she had me watch all the screwball comedies she could get her hands on. She had tons of 1930s & 1940s movies on VHS tapes (yes, I am aware that 90% of GR users probably don't even know what those are. It sucks to be revoltingly young, doesn’t it?) and I would watch them over and over again. And used to wish I'd not been born in the silly 1970s. (The Love Boat and disco vs. George Cukor and Cary Grant? Please someone take me back in time posthaste.) And I wanted to be Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story when I grew up. So that's Famous Three Things #1: screwball comedies.

Back to my grandmother. She was crazy about British Literature. And when I say crazy I mean CRAZY. She loved the classics but the one thing she just couldn't resist? Humor and wit. The first book she ever made me read? Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse. I can't remember how old I was when I first read it but I do remember falling in love with Wodehouse. He's been one of my favorite authors ever since. My grandmother's 1933 copy of Something Fresh sits on my bedside table and whenever I feel down I just open it at random and read a few pages. It works better than all the alcohol in the world.

Now there was one book that my grandmother suggested I read that I've always had mixed feelings about: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. Why is this important? Because the subtitle for this much-loved classic is To Say Nothing of the Dog. Yes, this is where Connie Willis got the title for her book. Jerome's story plays a very important part in Willis' book, too. And Willis' book could be considered a homage to Jerome's. I can't recount how many times I've read Three Men in a Boat in a desperate attempt to love it as much as everyone else does. Sometimes I think it's boring as hell, sometimes I think "hey, I think I get it now" but most times I just find it meh. Now that I've just reread To Say Nothing of the Dog I feel like giving Jerome's book another try. Obviously. I wonder how it will go this time. I'm not keeping my hopes up. Anyway, this was Famous Three Things #2: humorous British Lit.

As much as she loved the 1930s and British Lit, my grandmother was a science-fiction buff. Yeah, she was a pretty cool grandma. Her science fiction books? I haven't seen a more extensive collection to this day. And although she didn't actually introduce me to time travel novels, it's my grandmother's love for anything science-fiction that led me to discover that particular subgenre. I was never a fan of space operas and books involving aliens, distant galaxies, androids etc but time travel? I've always LOVED it (digression time: want to read one of the best time travel stories ever written? Read Time and Again. End of digression time). And that's Famous Three Things #3: time travel.

So I'm halfway through this review and I haven't said a thing about the book yet. Sigh. I told you this would be long and boring.

Let's do a little recap here. We have screwball comedies + humorous British Lit + time travel. And where does that take us? To Connie Willis of course. Because To Say Nothing of the Dog is the perfect mix of all these things. And more. So much more: it's P.G. Wodehouse meets the space time continuum meets comedic romp meets Agatha Christie meets the Victorian era meets Alternate History meets Dorothy L. Sayers meets fantasy of manners meets Everything I've Ever Loved. It's hilarious (well my kind of hilarious anyway), it's clever, it's witty, it's interesting, it's fun, it's thought-provoking and DAMN I still haven't said a word about the story. And I won't either. Just know that this book is about time travel and Victorian society. About chaos theory and bulldogs. About The Battle of Waterloo and hemorrhoids. About the butterfly effect and butlers who read Darwin. About crisis points and the drowning of extinct cats. About the Enigma machine and jumble sales. About penwipers and the least likely suspect. About Ultra and spiritualism. About time-lag and chaperones. About meddling with history and loose lips. About self-corrections and Coventry Cathedral. About space time continuum incongruities and Oxford dons. And ultimately it's about the Bishop's bird stump. But is it really? Maybe not. Everything is relative here. So you'll just have to read the book to find out. If you still feel like reading this book after being put through my review that is. I'm pretty sure the number of people who had this book on their to-read list just plummeted. So just forget you ever read this review and trust me when I say: this book. Read it.

Sadly enough my grandmother passed away before To Say Nothing of the Dog was published. Had she had the chance to read it I'm pretty sure she would have loved it as much as I do.
Profile Image for thefourthvine.
523 reviews199 followers
June 29, 2021
Update on 6/28/2021: As we get farther in time from when this book was written, certain parts become amusing (the phrase “fax-mags” made me giggle aloud, for example), and I might not love this book as much as i read it for the first time today. But I do love it, and I’ve read it so many times that I wince at every error in the ebook. (You know you’ve read a book too many times when you’re hissing at changes in the italics.) This book has, I think, every single Connie Willis trope there is (except rocks fall, everyone dies, but that’s only in some of her books), and it shows them as they were originally intended to be, before her style became a caricature of itself. It may not be a classic, but it is sure a classic for me.

Original review: First, know that I am deeply biased when it comes to this book: it's got time travel, which I love with a love that is more than love, and it's got Cyril, who I love with a love that makes my time travel love look like a Tuesday afternoon romance. Plus, it's inspired by - and references, oh my god, REFERENCES! - one of my favorite books, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

So, you know, I won't even attempt a qualitative review. I'll just say that this is fun, and funny, and it hits my narrative kinks so hard that I would marry it if there was a church that solemnized bibliopolygamy.

This book is a frequent re-read and a joy forever.
Profile Image for Laura.
78 reviews52 followers
February 20, 2009
Oh, dear. Every time I see the title of this book it makes me feel anxious. I am almost ashamed to say this in public, but I will be brave: I didn't like it.

I know. Everyone loves it and I can't explain why I don't. Normally I love all the elements that make up this book: time travel, romance, the 19th century. Just to be sure about it I have read it twice over the years; once in traditional book format and once as an audio book. *sigh* It makes me feel defective but there you are. I didn't like it.

The only reason I'm really posting this review is in case there is another person out there who doesn't like it and would be comforted to know that they aren't alone. Maybe we can start a club?
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,975 followers
December 11, 2018
Fateful re-read 5/4/18

This is one of my all-time favorite books. From the clever phrases and deep PTSD exasperation to the total eventual collapse of the space-time continuum because of a freaking cat to THE BISHOP'S BIRD-STUMP, I find myself chortling nearly twenty years after the first read and again on the re-read.

We're catapulted through time thanks to the Oxford History Department's time machine put to the disposal of a wealthy American patron who is, let's be frank, NUTS. She's sent seemingly countless overworked historians into the Blitz to recover artifacts from the destroyed cathedral at Coventry.

What really happens is a LOT of slippage in the time-stream, a deep mystery, even more miscommunication and strange coincidences and classic slapstick and some of the funniest Victorian Romance I've come across.

Oh, it's definitely hardcore SF, but it's also a tribute to Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat and the spirit is very much alive and well.

What we've got is a genre-masher of epic proportions. It's a high-stakes time-continuum travel and looming disaster, a truly atrocious MacGuffin that has everyone running around like headless chickens in a slapstick comedy, and a classic 1930's Hercule Peroit Agatha Christie mystery.

All three genres are pulled off wonderfully! And she tops it all off with VERY well-turned phrases that stick with you so warmly. :)

Charming? Beyond charming. Utterly delightful. No poppycock. :)
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
December 12, 2018
$2.99 Kindle sale, Dec. 11, 2018. While this offbeat time-travel novel is a sequel of sorts to Doomsday Book, they have completely different vibes, and it's not really necessary to have read Doomsday Book before this one. This is one of my favorite books in the world, but it's kind of an odd one that probably won't work for everyone. It's a little bit madcap farce, with people running and time-hopping around trying to find some obscure, ugly piece of Victorian art; it's got a bit of romantic comedy, a bit of mystery, and a lot of this and that kind of all mashed together in a way that can seem confusing at times, but in the end is ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT.

Give it a shot. That's all.
Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews632 followers
May 4, 2013

Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).

Have you read Passage , by Connie Willis?
I have. It was the first Willis I read.
We didn’t get on.

To Say Nothing of the Dog arrived in the post shortly afterwards, and I wasn’t exactly bouncing off the walls in excitement. I looked at the book. The book looked at me. I shoved in on a shelf and went back to reading Cyteen . I read another half-dozen books before I worked up the courage to even consider it.

I was packing books for my honeymoon. I wasn’t sure how much reading I’d get done because we were planning an action packed holiday (wink-wink-nudge-nudge!) so I lobbed in a couple of books I’d been putting off – ‘ The Dog , and Years of Rice & Salt . As it turned out, I nearly broke my ankle on our second day in Malta so we spent our time hobbling around the pool (and restaurants!) instead of all the mountain climbing and scuba-diving we had intended. Lots more time for reading than expected!

My darling wife actually nabbed ' The Dog before I’d looked at it. I was still grinding my way through the latter half of Cryptonomicon when she started flicking through the first chapter.

Isn’t this by the same writer you called ‘bloody miserable’?
It’s funny!
I’m borrowing it.

It turned out she really enjoyed it and recommended it highly. Which came as something of a surprise.

My point (and I understand if you’d given up all hope of me reaching it) is that stories take you on a journey – and how you connect with and take enjoyment from that journey can be hugely influenced by what you expect from the book and what’s going on in your life at that time. Had I read ‘ The Dog the moment it came through the letterbox (ignoring the fact that I would have been interrupting Cyteen midway through which is most out of character for me) I don’t think it would have had the same effect on the post- Passage , pre-Wedding, collapsing quantum wave-front that we call my sentient consciousness. But this was the right book at the right time, and I loved it!

With humour, it’s all subjective – it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I found it very funny. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but definitely dry-tickle-in-your-cheeks funny and stick-in-your-head funny. Particularly the effects of time lag in ‘difficulty distinguishing sounds’ – this has become a long running gag in our house ever since. Pretending to have difficulty distinguishing what your wife has said when she’s asking you to do chores – it’s hilarious… to me anyway.

The cats. The dog. The goldfish. The chaos theory. The Alice-in-Wonderland conversations. The Bishop’s bloody bird-stump! Oh yes, please! More?

Never before has an author pulled a U-turn in my estimations with such panache; you wily bird, Willis! The Oxford Time-Travel series is an odd and scatter-shot series. This book made me smile, Doomsday tried hard to make me cry and Blackout / All Clear had me tearing out my hair with anxiety. Why couldn’t she just write a direct sequel to this?

Ned gets the girl…
“And kissed her for a hundred and sixty-nine years.”
… but what happened next, hmmm!?

There should be a whole series of Victorian adventures with Ned and Verity.
And kittens.

A happy 5-stars. Definitely check it out.
You might not click – I’ll admit, it doesn’t work for a decent percentage of readers – but…but… you might just discover a new book for your favourites shelf.
It’s worth the risk, read it!
Profile Image for Ms. Smartarse.
590 reviews249 followers
November 3, 2022
Oxford 2057, and time travel is a thing.
Lady Shrapnell is pouring all her effort into restoring the Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during a German bombing in 1940. And she'll damned well requisition every single time travelling historian from the University, as long as it gets her all the original artefacts.

Ned Henry is one of the unfortunate historians, attempting to escape yet another deployment, and gets therefore sent back to the Victorian era for a bit of down time. It's just that he's also supposed to deliver a rat... a fan... or maybe a hat somewhere, but as he's suffering of Temporary Inability to Distinguish Sounds the whole task turns into a much bigger deal that anyone may have suspected. Cue a whole lot of boating, animal sitting, and just all-around mayhem, trying to prevent the collapse of the known reality.

Just like with Doomsday Book, the story gripped me right from the get go, having me dedicate it every minute of my spare time. With tons of humour, plenty of action, some truly intriguing time travelling logic and even a bit of romance, I could barely stand to do much else while reading.

... at least until I switched to the audiobook.
I had the brilliant idea to try out the audible version, in an attempt to maximise my reading time. Perhaps it was the fault of the narrator, or maybe Ned's time lag was more contagious than I thought, but I was completely unable to distinguish characters from one another. As a result, I started tuning out more and more of the book, and nearly abandoned it, before deciding to start over. Sans audio this time.

Score: 4.3/5 stars

I will never get over my utter hatred of lyrical works, no matter how comically one may try to present them. So even without the unfortunate audible experience, I doubt I'd have gotten a full on 5-star read out of it. And yes, I say that fully aware that all the crappy poetry was an integral part of the story.

One of the first symptoms of time-lag is a tendency to maudlin sentimentality, like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold-sober.

Other books from the series:

Review of Doomsday Book
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews508 followers
April 19, 2015

Two weeks ago I'd not heard of Connie Willis or of this novel. It came into my life because I randomly clicked through to this article in The Guardian when I was looking for something completely different. Had I done my random clicking pre-Goodreads, I may well have passed on this novel, because "science-fiction fantasy" does not describe the kind of novel I generally read. But these days I'm much more adventurous, so I jumped right in.

What fun this was! It's a time travel story that (sort of) makes sense, a farce, a romp, a screwball comedy, a comedy of manners, a romance, a mystery and a homage to Three Men in a Boat. It includes some truly hideous Victoriana, the burning of Coventry Cathedral, a dog and a cat, an eccentric Oxford don, a boat, a butler and allusions to writers including Shakespeare, Tennyson, Agatha Christie, Lewis Carroll, and Dorothy L Sayers (which was particularly special for me, because I'm a Dorothy L Sayers nut!). There was even a reference to The Princess Bride, or at least I think there was.

I absolutely loved reading this, all the more so because I took the advice of some GR reviewers and read Three Men in a Boat first. It's not essential to do so, but I'm very glad I did. This was the ideal novel to read while on holidays and I want to read it again. Here's to serendipitous random clicking, The Guardian and the expansion of literary boundaries brought to me courtesy of Goodreads.
Profile Image for Beverly.
807 reviews293 followers
September 26, 2017
It is a revelation, smart and funny, especially a particular mix-up about Cyril. Romance, time travel, history, this book has it all.
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews286 followers
May 12, 2009
2 1/2

I picked up this book because it was the read of the month for the Sci-fi/Fantasy group here on goodreads. Time travel tends to hurt my head, and this was no exception, but that's not what dragged it down.

Honestly, I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't like it - but I'll try.

To start with, I felt like it took a long while for the book to actually start. I guess there was too much set-up, or it was belabored too much. I didn't feel like it really got going until well into 200+ pages.

Another thing was that I just didn't get how this book was "hilarious". It was mildly amusing, what with the comedy of errors and the little snark on Victorian mannerisms, but it was also belabored to the point of being repetitive and overdone.

I kept reading because I wanted to finish it, not really because I was compelled to keep reading. I was curious as to how it would all work out - of course I was never in any doubt that it would all work out somehow.

I give it an extra half star because I like how the end sort of wrapped up everything nicely, while at the same time leaving a little dangling question, and I like how the romance between Verity and Ned was handled in juxtaposition to the saccharine Tossie and St. Trewes thing. Oh, and I did like the part with Baine, and Tossie, and the river...

So 2 stars overall... 2 1/2 for a satisfying conclusion...
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
March 4, 2016
We all like a good laugh don’t we? But for me, comedy works best in TV shows or movies. Humour in print works best in shorter formats, like cartoon strips or magazine articles. I tend to find “comic novels” (not to be confused with graphic novels) problematical. The trouble is I keep expecting to laugh at every page and that is a tall order for the authors. I don’t expect to be thrilled by every page of a thriller or to be scared by every page of a horror novel so I don’t know why I have such a high expectation of comic novels. Just a personal quirk I guess. Consequently, I tend to be less interested in comic novels because I find very few of them consistently funny through out the book.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a comic sci-fi novel, and it is a good one. It is not in the same league as Douglas Adams
or Robert Sheckley mind bendingly funny sf but it is a pleasant read and the humour works well enough from time to time. The style of humour is reminiscent of classic comic novels by P.G. Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde. Of course the title of the book is a tribute to Jerome K. Jerome’s classic Three Men in a Boat, a book I kind of dislike (review). I found it to be tedious, tame and almost mirth-free. Probably not Jerome’s fault it just did not work for me. Having read “Three Men” out of curiosity and as a sort of preparation for reading To Say Nothing of the Dog my subsequent dislike of it does not bode well for Connie Willis’ book. On the other hand, I totally love her Doomsday Book, one of the finest sf books I read in the past few years. To Say Nothing of the Dog is part of Ms Willis' loosely connected Oxford Time Travel series which includes Doomsday Book but the tone is very different. While Doomsday Book is intense and tragic To Say Nothing of the Dog is almost entirely breezy. I persevered through the less than riveting first few chapters and eventually settled into enjoying the book.

It would be a mistake to expect To Say Nothing of the Dog to be a sci-fi version of or tribute to Jerome’s book. Ms. Willis is clearly influenced by more diverse material than just one book. Her love for the crime fiction of Agatha Christie
And Dorothy L. Sayers is also evident. Best of all she did not neglect the sci-fi aspect of it, the book went on to win the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1999, and also a Nebula Award nomination.

What raises To Say Nothing of the Dog far above Three Men in a Boat is that there is more to it than just trying to elicit laughter. There are the intriguing logic and logistics of time travelling which Willis beautifully worked out. The characters are also generally amiable and as something of an anglophile myself I enjoy the British culture references like jumble sales, the “tube trains” and the Jeevesian acerbic butler dialogue.

My only complaint is that for the most part there is very little sense of urgency to the proceeding (until the last two or three chapters). The lighthearted tone is maintained throughout the book and the story moves amiably at a leisurely pace. This led to my initial feeling that the novel is too tame, the stakes are too low. As it turns out all of time and space continuum is at stake and a sense of danger eventually appears toward the end as the main characters’ strive to repair “incongruities”, which is Willis’ term for time travelling paradoxes. I like that she is using a different term for these paradoxes from the standard time travelling stories it somehow makes the story seem more believable.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is not a laugh-a-minute book, it is not a complete success as a comic novel, but neither is it a failure. More importantly, as a lighthearted time travelling sci-fi novel it is worth a read. Just don’t go into it with the wrong expectations.

(3.5 stars)
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,495 reviews962 followers
April 12, 2012
A most entertaining adventure where Oxford dons get to meddle with time travel and a chance for the author to exercise her wit and to pay homage to great British authors. Everything is thrown into the pot - from ancient Greek battles to the decisions that sealed the fate of Napoleon at Waterloo, from Shakespeare to Tennyson, G K Chesterton to P G Wodehouse, Victorian morals and artistic expressions, boating on the Thames or the raid that destroyed the Coventry Cathedral in World War II, Lord Peter Whimsey or Hercule Poirot , jumble sales or spiritualism . . . to say nothing of the dog (or the cat)
I couldn't stop laughing as I followed the well intended but clueless attempts of a pair of young historians to fix the time travel paradox of an errant cat and to discover the whereabouts of the infamous Bishop's Bird Stump.

I can understand how the numerous academic insider jokes and references to British culture and history can put off some readers, but I have always been a fan of some of the names mentioned above, so this book was exactly what I needed to put me in a good mood.

[edit] spelling
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,406 reviews462 followers
May 15, 2020
1998 Dec 21,
1999 May 15
1999 June 7
2004 Apr 09
2011 Nov 13
2014 Jan 10
2016 Jun 28
2020 May 15

I read it again, and I loved it. This is definitely a comfort read for me. Ah, the madcap chaos of it all. The naughty cat, the charming Cyril, the annoying people. Total love.

Speaking of books I love, down to every last detail, this is on the short list. The Chapter headings! The Tennyson quotes! The classism, sexism, and racism as viewed from a more enlightened viewpoint! The dog! The mystery novels of the Thirties! Time travel! Aggressive swans! Rowing on the Thames! Little screamlets! The sleep-deprived mental muddle which no one has ever described so well in print as Willis! Romance! Comedy! The horror of war!


I own a copy that is spine-challenged and so worn from re-reading, even though I am a particularly gentle user of books. This is my idea of an uplifting story, with couples formed up at the end.


Two thoughts: it amuses me that I read this twice in less than a month, finishing on my birthday, and again on the birth day of my first born. Comfort in times of stress, indeed. The other is that Willis holds two superlatives in my book. She is the author who makes me cry the hardest ("Last of the Winnebagos", Doomsday Book, Passage) and also the one who makes me laugh the hardest (Bellwether, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Crosstalk).

And another thought: this may be the book I've read the most.


2020 May 15
At the moment this is the most-read full-length novel for me. Good Omens is behind by 1. Wonderful, but, so long. I'm now behind on my reading challenge. Time to squeeze in some picture books, I think. Or cartoons. Something light, anyway.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,945 reviews3,404 followers
May 6, 2018
This is the second story about the Oxford Time Travel Institute. It is only loosely connected to the first, namely through Mr. Dunworthy, whom we know from book 1. And wasn't I glad about that (the first book and I didn't get along too splendidly).

It is 2057 (thus, a few years after the first book) and here, Mrs. Schrapnell, a rich and very eccentric (if not to say gaga) American lady is pouring money into rebuilding Coventry Cathedral exactly as it was before the Nazi Blitz during WWII. She has therefore conscripted the Oxford history department to help her and, in addition, to find the Bishop's Bird Stump, a decorational piece from Coventry Cathedral.
The problem is that she’s working everyone to death, sending the historians up and down the timeline to find the blasted thing because it was lost (not destroyed, that much they know). But even if they find it (despite not even knowing what it looks like), they cannot just bring it to the future with them because the natural laws of the time continuum prevent anything of significance from being brought from the past to the future (or getting too close to historical events of significance so no historian can mess about). Any attempt at circumventing this law results in the time traveller either being sent to the right time but a completely different place (could be just a couple of kilometers or even another continent), or to the right place but the wrong time so the traveller can't create a paradox. In extreme cases, the continuum can even correct paradoxes by changing the course of events in minor ways to keep the original outcome the same. Yes, that means that the time continuum itself is kind of like a character here.
Due to the fact that the historians are working around the clock, suffering from time lag (yes, like jet lag, only worse), mistakes are made and slowly but surely we notice that the timeline (the net) is fighting back.
Ned, one of the historians, is suffering so much from time lag that he is sent to Victorian England for recovery (out of the way of Mrs. Schrapnell) just as a colleague of his has accidentally brought a cat forwards in time, supposedly violating the afore-mentioned time continuum law, which could even lead to the Nazis finding out about the Enigma having been compromised - which could, in turn, lead to a different outcome of WWII!
But history has a way of sorting itself out so of course he is smack in the middle of the continuum problem as well as contemporary romantic entanglements. To say nothing of the dog. ;)

Connie Willis obviously loves Jerome K. Jerome's book Three Men in a Boat and has therefore incorporated the style as well as many plot elements of that book. She combines them with the style of other works, such as Agatha Christie’s and Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime novels or Shakespeare’s romantic comedies. However, she cleverly intertwines all of that with the time travel element and impresses once again with the amount of details, in this case mostly about the Victorian era.

This combination makes this book much lighter and funnier than the first. Sure, the future of humanity is at stake, but we’re laughing along with the cat, are exasperated at the sheer stupidity of Tossie, and just enjoy the romp through all the misunderstandings in general. To say nothing of the time riddle and what really has happened. A very clever plot, I have to admit. In retrospect, the signs were indeed there, if one had only known where to look.

Thus, while I was once again annoyed (especially about the fact that nobody just shut Mrs. Schrapnell into a closet, her money be damned) and although I would have wished for a bit more history (Victorian England is not as interesting to me as - for example - Ancient Rome), I enjoyed this much more than the first volume. Probably because I could actually laugh along with some of the people and liked both Princess Arjumand and Cyril (the cat and the dog) very much so I was thoroughly delighted that they played such central roles.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
May 19, 2014
This is the third Connie Willis I've read, and I was a little leery. While I really enjoyed Passage, Lincoln's Dreams was pretty much the same book, written earlier, and less well. So I was a little worried about her recycling plots. And maybe she does, but this book has very little in common with either earlier book, and was thoroughly delightful and surprising.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Sarah.
732 reviews73 followers
September 12, 2018
Most of this book was four stars for me but then it went and got clever. It ended up being completely brilliant and I got some excellent laughs out of it, especially the end.

Poor Ned Henry has a severe case of time lag and he's been to way too many jumble sales. He's taken nearly 15 trips back to the 1940s to find the Bishop's Bird Stump and he's having no luck. Desperate to avoid Lady Schrapnell he goes to Mr. Dunworthy who promptly sends him back to the Victorian Era to have a bit of rest. He meets up with his contact... eventually... and then they spend most of the book frantically trying to make sure that Tossie marries Mr. C. to stop the space-time continuum from being destroyed.

There are literary references galore and it creates an especially delightful homage to Agatha Christie and classic detective fiction. It was an extraordinarily fun book.

This is my third book by Willis and considering that I've given them all 5 stars, I'm wondering why in the hell I'm not dropping everything to read more! She's brilliant and wonderfully funny.
Profile Image for  ~Geektastic~.
233 reviews150 followers
May 27, 2015
4.5 stars, just to be clear.

Part time travel adventure, part comedy of manners and part mystery, To Say Nothing of the Dog is a little bit of everything I love about books.

To Say Nothing of the Dog takes its name (and much of its sensibility) from the famous novella by Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog. This choice is not incidental, but neither is it overwhelmingly important to the novel as a whole. The story is told through the eyes of Ned Henry, a time travelling historian in the not-too-distant future, as we witness his adventures into the late Victorian past. Poor Ned is overworked and just looking for a bit of a rest. His employer, the demanding and overbearing (and appropriately named) Lady Shrapnell, is looking to collect the various “treasures” that once resided in Coventry Cathedral in order to complete a restoration project, including a mysterious object known as “the bishop’s bird stump.” With no concern for the health of her staff or the laws of time, Shrapnell runs her team into the ground, and Ned into an advanced case of time-lag, the mind-muddling result of excessive time travel. Think jet lag but about 100 times worse and 1,000 times more entertaining. Prescribed two weeks of rest to recover but perpetually hounded by Lady Shrapnell, Ned is given the chance to travel back to the late Victorian countryside for a bit of R&R. However, Ned is no expert in the chosen time, so naturally hilarity ensues. Of course, time travel is never so simple as a quick jaunt into the past, so Ned must confront a tangle of time related difficulties while also trying to maneuver through the intricacies of straight-laced Victorian society.

Time travel is a notoriously difficult narrative tool to handle properly. Even the most phenomenally plotted story can collapse under the weight of disbelief a slip in mechanics can create. The key is to focus on the most important “rules” and to try to stick to them assiduously, while simultaneously avoiding the tendency to bog everything down in too much detail. Connie Willis has built a career and reputation on her ability to render time travel with just the right amount of detail and vagary to make her mechanics credible without overshadowing the plot with technical terms and excessive exposition. Granted, I’m making this statement based on this particular book and hearsay, but I stand by it. Willis’ time travel mechanics are simple, while their implications are much more complex. In Dog, the system is gradually revealed, rather than dumped on the reader first thing. This is beneficial in keeping things simple, but at the same time causes an occasional head scratching when an unexplained technical term is used. Everything is clarified in due time, however, so it’s not really any hindrance to the story.

The heart of the story isn’t really the time travelling anyway. Most of the fun comes in the form of the characters Ned meets as he stumbles and blunders his way to a not-very-successful rest. A jaunt down the Thames soon introduces Ned to a myriad of famous Victorian types, including a poetry-spouting undergrad, an eccentric professor and a stiff-upper-lipped butler, to say nothing of the dog. Luckily for Ned, he also meets a fellow time traveler, the brilliant and beautiful Verity, who guides him through the social faux-pas minefield that was Victorian England. Verity is in 1888 on a mission, and when Ned becomes entangled as well, his rest goes right out the window and the trip becomes a mad dash to save all of time while still maintaining a stiff Victorian veneer.

I really loved this book. It’s so difficult not to go on and on about every little fascinating reference to Victorian culture and literature, and every brilliant twist in the time travel narrative, but the enjoyment is in the gradual reveal of detail, so I don’t want to give anything away here. I will say that, while it’s not really necessary, you may enjoy this book even more if you read Three Men in a Boat first. Also, as much as I found to love in this book, I had some difficulty with Ned at first. As a narrator he’s well up to the task, but as a character he could have used a bit more fleshing out. We never really know what he looks like, or much about him at all, other than the fact that he is a historian and not very well versed in Victorian history. Essentially, Ned plays the straight man, observing and reflecting the comedy going on around him, so once this is accepted the story rolls along quite nicely. Now, in the finest tradition of “show, don’t tell,” we do learn that Ned is very capable and intelligent by observing his reactions and puzzle solving abilities, rather than hear him go on about himself, and I think this is what finally won me over in his favor.

If you like time travel, P.G. Wodehouse, Victorian novels or any combination of the three, this would be the book for you.

(Warning: If you have never read Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and plan on doing so, read it before picking this up. It gives the whole twist away. I know I shouldn’t be peeved about spoilers over 100 years old, but I was.)
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
April 6, 2016
This book was a real stand-out for me! I picked it up after reading some good reviews, and I was pleasantly surprised to like it even better than I expected.
It's a time-travel/mystery/romance which is consistently witty and often downright hilarious. Books which are simultaneously literary and humorous are hard to come by - but here, Willis succeeds amazingly well.
In the near future, time travel has been discovered. It's being used by a wealthy society dame, Lady Schrapnell, in her well-funded pet project - to restore Coventry Cathedral, destryed in a WWII bombing raid. Her time-travelling agents live in fear of her harridan-like ways, especially Ned Henry, who's been assigned to ascertain exactly what happened to the Bishop's Bird Stump (a particularly grotesque and rococo piece of Victorian art).
Indirectly, this assignment takes him to Victorian England, where, affected by severe time-lag (think jet-lag x10) he ends up travelling down the river in the company of a recently-lovestruck young man - and a boisterous dog. The action picks up from there, with a cast of quirky characters, including the ditzy blonde Tossie, the pre-raphaelite beauty Verity, eccentric professors, prudish-and-proper parents, fraudulent psychics, and, of course, Princess Arjumand.
I haven't read "Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog!" by Jerome K. Jerome - a genuine Victorian comedy that apparently inspired Willis stylistically - but I can say that this book would definitely appeal to any fans of Victorian fiction (experts in the field would, I'm sure, 'get' many things that I missed), as well as classic mystery fans (Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie are referenced more than once), and, of course, sci-fi/time travel aficionados.

(I just noticed that I should probably note here, that after writing this (some time ago) I did get myself over to the library to read 'Three Men in A Boat': https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
Profile Image for Alexandra.
254 reviews13 followers
May 20, 2023
Book club pick ☺

I have always been fond of Three Men in a Boat. It is incredibly nice to come back to To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is basically a love letter to Jerome K. Jerome, an idealised image of Victorian England, Victorian fiction, and Golden Age mystery novels. The author turns all of the above on its head and creates a delightful time travel romp. The stakes are high, too – it’s the whole space-time continuum, no less ;)

There is something to chuckle, laugh, or smile at on every page.

“ ’What on earth were you doing in the water?’
‘Drowning’, said professor Peddick.”

I loved the effects of time-lag (it happens when you do too much time travelling), which include attacks of maudlin sentimentality. Then you say stuff like “It’s no wonder they call you man’s best friend. Faithful and loyal and true, you share in our sorrows and rejoice in our triumphs…” ets etc. Lovely.

There are lots of misunderstandings and people talking at each other rather than to each other, because their brains went on a holiday. Really, I wouldn’t trust any of these characters with ordering a coffee for me, let alone time travel. But it also means that you are wonderfully entertained all the way through.

Things come together very satisfyingly by the end. Don’t look too closely, though, because time travel books rarely make sense. Just go with the flow, dear reader. Enjoy the flow of the Thames... :)))
27 reviews11 followers
March 5, 2016
This is my absolute favorite book. A perfect blend of sci-fi, historical fiction, mystery, comedy, mistaken identity and romance; this book has it all.

Its the not-too-distant future, but time-travel has been around for awhile. Oxford historian Ned Henry is trying desperately to find a hideous Victorian object, the Bishop's Bird Stump, shuttling back and forth between World War Two and the Victorian Era. Meanwhile, another historian, Verity Kindle, accidentally brings something back from the past, potentially changing history and destroying time-travel. Ned (who only knows about the Victorian Era from Jerome K. Jerome's book, Three Men in a Boat to Say Nothing of the Dog) and Verity have to live in a ridiculous-and completely realistic-Victorian house, trying to help history correct itself but generally making things worse.

Its clever, without the smug voice that tends to accompany clever novels. Towards the middle it gets a little slow, but if you keep going it picks right back up with a great finish. With great characters and intricate details, this is a superb novel.
Profile Image for Kim.
401 reviews180 followers
April 13, 2013
I've now read all of Connie Willis' Oxford Time Travel novels and I have to say that I found this one to be the best. The story was intriguing and funny and didn't have any of the ridiculous tension issues of the other books. No communication issues anywhere. No mistaken identities. Yes there were mysteries and things that needed to be resolved but they were handled in a way that made it enjoyable to read, not frustrating.

I look forward to seeing where she takes this series next. Highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Mike.
483 reviews376 followers
December 24, 2015
So this was a fun little read, with elements of sci-fi time travel, a Victorian era social comedy story, and a 1930's mystery with a very light touch of romance thrown in.

In the future we have mastered the ability to travel through time... only to discover we can't actually bring anything consequential back (sorry people who want to steal the Mona Lisa fresh off da Vinci's easel) and any attempts to change key events are thwarted by the space-time continuum itself. In this way is was a bit like Stephen King's 11/22/63, with coincidences and alteration of time jumps preserving the general thrust of history. Of course that doesn't stop us from studying the past, but there isn't much money in that especially when time travelers can't even get close to the good stuff since the continuum won't risk many changes. This, as you can imagine, leaves funds for time travel a bit difficult to get.

Of course this just makes universities and time travel organizations desperate enough to offer their talents to the super wealthy, in this case a rich American who is obsessed the Coventry Cathedral which had a major impact on the life of an ancestor of hers. She decides to spend lavishly to create a perfect reconstruction of it, down to every insignificant detail and harangues the time travel agencies to send their workers on time travel drops of every conceivable kind to get every little detail perfect.

The book opens with the main character and time travel historian Ned Henry in a bad spot, stuck on a seemingly impossible mission to determine what has happened to the Bishop's Bird Stump, a historic artifact that has yet to be located fro the reconsecration of the Coventry Cathedral. He is also suffering heavily from time-lag, a by product of too frequent time travel which affects the mind in a similar manner as extreme fatigue. He then finds himself on a bit of a misadventure as he is sent back to the Victorian era for an easy mission (which he does not remember) to meet another agent (whom he does not recall) and then spend the rest of the time relaxing.

Sufficed to say nothing goes as planned. He is still completely time lagged and has no idea what he is doing. He falls with a bunch of very colorful characters right out of a Victorian story: the matron obsessed with the spirits, a patron who loves his fish and finds spiritualism to be a bunch of hooey, the absent minded Oxford Don, the hyper efficient but constantly put upon butler, the romantic and poetry spouting undergrad who falls in love with the spoiled and pampered daughter of the aforementioned patron and matron, to say nothing of the dog. Ned and his fellow agent Verity (who he does meet up with) try to unravel all the many accidents and problems they inadvertently cause in the time line while navigating this tangled social web.

This was for the most part a really fun read. The characters were suitable absurd that I would often find myself laughing out loud at their antics. Willis does an excellent job balancing the time travel plot and the quest for the Bishop's Bird Stump with the Victorian era events that Ned and Verity end up mucking up a bit. By the end we discover the mystery behind all the tricks the continuum has been playing on the time travelers and just what happened to that wretched bird stump (a solution found using nothing but Ned's "little gray cells" as Poirot would say). I found the conclusion of the book quite satisfying with everything wrapped up nicely and logically.

While I did enjoy the book a lot I thought the beginning and ending dragged a bit. The beginning was a bit slow and then Ned gets hit with full blown time-lag so what was going on around him wasn't terribly clear. Things didn't really get going until he ends up on the Thames in the 19th century. The ending felt a bit rushed and cluttered but it did get the important points across

All in all well worth reading as the absurd characters, great writing, and time travel mystery really kept me engaged. Also, while this is the second book in the Oxford Time Travel Series, it is a stand alone book that doesn't require knowledge of the first to enjoy.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,864 reviews370 followers
November 18, 2020
Well, that was fun. A wonderful time travel whodunnit. I forget where I read that this book was informed by Three Men in a Boat, which I read earlier this year in preparation for reading this novel. Although I didn't find Jerome K. Jerome's tale too engaging, I loved Connie Willis' version. I’m so glad I was familiar with Mr. Jerome's work, as it provided a great deal of humour. Although this novel features the same university department as Willis' Doomsday Book, it had an entirely different tone. This one is practically slapstick by comparison.

Ms. Willis obviously shares some literary interests with me. I loved the references to Conan Doyle & Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie & Poirot, Dorothy Sayers & Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane, P.G. Wodehouse & Jeeves & Wooster, not to mention Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone. This kind of thing is just catnip to me. So many of my favourites alluded to all in one place. Not to mention the sighting of Jerome out on the river!

Willis also has a talent for names—what else do you call the rich, pushy woman who has taken over everything and destroyed the regular work of the history department? Why, Lady Schrapnell, of course! Perfect. I think that Jodi Taylor must have read this before writing her own time travel romp Just One Damned Thing After Another, another book that I've enjoyed a lot.

It took me a couple of attempts to really get going in this book just because of life matters, but once I reached a certain point, I couldn't set it down until I was finished.

Book number 382 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

Cross posted at my blog:

Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews205 followers
June 15, 2015

This was a fun romp -- perfect summer reading, and a nice homage to P.G. Wodehouse, whose books I've really enjoyed. There are enough twists and turns that I'll probably be just as pleasantly surprised by how the events play out in a re-read, too.
Profile Image for Corinna.
53 reviews
April 1, 2011
Many people know that Three Men in a Boat: to Say Nothing of the Dog! is probably my favorite book. What many people don't necessarily know is that I first read it because I bought a very old copy of it at a book sale, and the reason I bought it was because I had read Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein, (to whom To Say Nothing of the Dogis dedicated) in which the main character, Kip, interrupts his father as he is reading HIS favorite book, Three Men in a Boat, in which, he claims, all of life's lessons can be found.

I think To Say Nothing of the Dog would be fine to read if you'd never read any of Jerome K. Jerome's writing, but I think a familiarity with his work makes this book even more fun to read. The little summaries of action at the start of each chapter, the many references to Jerome's book (and even his person!) during the first part of the book, and even to some degree the measured, deliberate pacing of the book all stand as tribute to Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Of course this book does have it's own wacky men, it's own wacky (if short-lived) boat trip and it's own dog with a unique personality (albeit calmer than that of Montmorency!). I also appreciated that there is a cat who is quite a pivotal character - I take this to be another wink at the Heinlein fans reading - that man had such a thing for cats in his writing.

As for the story itself, there is a great deal of time travel, which can be a head-scratcher, and there are some unique rules for it in this book, but overall, I thought it was highly interesting and enjoyable. I might need to read it again to really get all the twists and turns, however. I did get annoyed by the main characters' total inability to discern who Mr. C was, but I think that we were perhaps meant to figure that out well ahead of the protagonists.
Profile Image for donna backshall.
643 reviews177 followers
March 16, 2022
I must admit that, through the first few chapters, I found myself wondering if I would be able to finish this book. It moved slowly, too slowly I thought, the literary references were thick as morning fog, and the characters were hardly relatable.

And then something happened. Don't ask me how, but the characters and the story got under my skin, in the best way possible. Ned's frustrations became charming, the naming of Lady Schrapnell proved genius, and the sheer ridiculousness of the interactions began to flow. It was then that the subtleties and the humor could shine through, and everything simply fell into place. And then, it seems, I fell in love with this book.

I will be ever thankful to Connie Willis for this story and her masterful writing, which included one of the most quotable lines I have ever seen in a book:

“Cats, as you know, are quite impervious to threats.”

As obvious as this idea may be, I've never heard it stated so eloquently. And then, of course, I have the idea of bad kitty Princess Arjumand being flung into the Thames to make me smile every time I hear it.
Profile Image for Alexis Hall.
Author 51 books10.8k followers
June 12, 2015
This book is the best book.

That is all.

Okay maybe it's not all.

I don't even know how to describe it ... a ridiculously clever, ridiculously funny madcap time-travelling Victoriana-infused romp?

Profoundly Oxfordy as well - full of references and allusions that make me at once feel at one and in on a snooty private joke. Which is a feeling I kinda enjoy. Because I'm a bad person.

Also Lady Shrapnel is the best name for a villain.

Profile Image for Anna.
250 reviews97 followers
December 1, 2018
"When was the last time I’d eaten? A cup of tea and a rock cake at the Women’s Institute Victory Drive Sale of Work was all I could remember, and that was at least two days and fifty-two years ago."

This was absurd and witty and very, very funny. I’m a sucker for absurd and funny.
Profile Image for Lori.
666 reviews68 followers
April 25, 2015
Ah, I was so bummed when this book was over, I would have gladly stayed with these characters for at least a month, that's how delightful they were. Even when Willis writes about the more annoying characters, it's with such bonhomie they become like irritating family members that you hope will leave soon but they are still family so you're stuck with them, and after they leave you can have a good laugh and roll your eyes at their antics. And I miss Cyril and Princess Amahajumed the most, I wish I could take them home with me!

Another great one from Connie Willis. Much lighter of heart than Doomsday and Passage. The only reason I'm not giving this a 5 is because I also just finished Incredibly Close and Extremely Loud, which I am floored by and think is a Masterpiece. Timing is everything!
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