Thursday 15 March 2012

To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis

Title: To Say Nothing of the Dog
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 1997
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

"To Say Nothing of The Dog" by Connie Willis is a novel that was recommended to me last year after I read and enjoyed another of Willis' novels, "The Doomsday Book" which I reviewed here. However, as with many other books, I have never found the time to read it. So when I found out that I had to read a Hugo award winner as part of the Sci-Fi Reader Challenge I jumped at the chance to read this novel.

The story itself is set in the same universe as "The Doomsday Book" although I wouldn't really call it a sequel, even if a few characters do show up again. The reader once again follows a group of time travelling historians from Oxford University as they investigate the past. The main protagonist is called Ned Henry and he has been involved in a project to rebuild pre-WWII Coventry Cathedral and in particular he has been tasked with trying to identify the missions "Bishop's Bird Stump". However, due to his many trips to the past he begins to suffer "time-lag" which is a form of severe disorientation and confusion. So that he can recover and avoid the project manager who doesn't believe in time-lag, he is sent to the rural countryside in Victorian times for a vacation. However, his time-lag affected behaviour and the time-line altering actions of another historian results in a rather comic and enjoyable adventure.

Whilst I have mentioned "The Doomsday Book" as being within the same universe it is important to note for anyone who has read it that the difference between it and "To Say Nothing of The Dog" is like the difference between night and day. Whilst "The Doomsday Book" was dark, sad and depressing at times, "To Say Nothing of The Dog" is funny, light and merry. It is a testament to Willis' ability that I have loved both books hugely and they are written superbly well despite the differences in style.

I found myself smiling and laughing multiple times as I followed the travails of the historians trying to deal with time-lag, the missing "Bishop's Bird Stump" and correct various issues within the time-line. Willis has weaved a very eclectic mix of amusing events and people that kept me thoroughly entertained. In addition, whilst events such as jumble sales in the 1940s and the antics of a goldfish eating cat in the 19th century can appear to be random and unrelated they actually all resolve into quite a clever and well thought out conclusion.

The novel isn't just farcical comedy however; there are some interesting elements towards the later half of the novel regarding paradox and time travel that should appeal to most science fiction fans. What impressed me the most however about these elements was the way in which Willis used her enjoyable and humorous story to make what could be quite a complex subject into something that most people should be able to follow and understand.

In summary, I can't really think of anything negative to say about the story. I found it funny, clever, entertaining and full of enough surprises to keep me hooked from start to finish. If you want to have a good laugh with the underlying seriousness of a well thought out time travel novel then you won't go wrong in picking this book up. Personally, I am going to make sure I go and read the remaining books Willis has written about her time travelling historians. Even if the style is different again, I have a lot of faith in her ability to entertain me.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Speculative Fiction Challenge
Sci-Fi Reader Challenge


  1. Willis' book is a parody of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog), and Willis cleverly has her own characters both parody AND interact with those in the older book. This is amazingly clever.
    I LOVE Willis' stuff, and this series is my favorite of hers. (Be warned, though, that the next two books in the series are serious and not funny.)

    And, of course, if you've somehow overlooked Jerome's book, you might want to read it, as it makes Willis' book just that much more enjoyable. :)

  2. Since reading "To Say Nothing of The Dog" I have actually already picked up the Jerome novel and am looking forward to reading it.

  3. Parts of Jerome's book are hysterically funny. But the end, in my opinion, is a bit of a let down. Still, it's worth it in order to appreciate Willis' book even more. :)

  4. 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.