Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Ned Henry is a time-traveling historian at Oxford, who has unfortunately been assigned to Lady Shrapnell’s quest to recreate an historic church. For the last…god knows how long, he’s been searching for the bishop’s bird stump in the 1940s. He finds himself suffering from time-lag and is promised a vacation in Victorian England where Lady Shrapnell can’t find him. Of course, the Oxford historians need him to take care of one teeny tiny little incongruity caused by fellow time-traveling historian, Verity, who just so happens to be as beautiful as a naiad. Of course, that could just be the time-lag talking.
Wow. Wow. I literally hugged this book multiple times as I was reading it. I love it that much. You know that old Looney Tunes cartoon with the abominable snowman who finds Bugs Bunny and then scoops him up and rocks him saying, “I will hug him and love him and squeeze him and call him George” ? If I was the abominable snowman, this book would be my Bugs Bunny.
It is incredibly witty in that highly intelligent manner that expects you to be educated to get the joke. Multiple references to classic literature, historic events, and more tossed around as quips and comparisons to events characters are currently going through. It also features the put-upon hero, Ned, who maintains a good sense of humor about the whole thing in that lovely self-deprecating way that makes me wish the character could pop out of the book and be my best friend.
Additionally, I love history as long-time readers of this blog know. History was one of my two majors in university. I was the 7 year old girl who sat around watching war movies and PBS documentaries. I also love scifi. Hence, the entire concept of time-travel is one of my all-time favorite things, and Willis handles it so intelligently and beautifully! I love that time travel is something only the academics do since everyone else finds it dull once it’s discovered they can’t loot from the past. It makes so much sense! I love the implication that non-academics are quite happy with shopping malls while Ned and Verity go traipsing around through the past navigating a world distantly related to our own. One of my favorite moments is when Ned discovers that Victorians actually used exclamations like “pshaw” that are found in Victorian novels. It’s a historian’s dream come true!
Finally, a significant portion of the storyline revolves around cats. Adding an extra layer of awesome to this is the fact that cats are extinct in the future, so Ned has never encountered one before. He makes the initial mistake of thinking cats are like dogs. Any cat lovers, I’m sure, can envision the hilarity that ensues from this little thought process. Also, seriously, Willis clearly understands animals perfectly. The mannerisms of the cats and the bull dog, Cyril, are written to a T.
Put together humor, time travel, history, and animals, and this is the perfect read. If you enjoy any one of those things, but definitely if you enjoy more than one of them, you absolutely must give this book a chance. I haven’t loved a book this much in years, and I just….I just want to spread the love. I also want to go re-read it right now.
5 out of 5 stars