It is inevitable that I start by comparing To Say Nothing of the Dog to Doomsday Book, the other Connie Willis novel I recently reviewed. Though very much related in that involves the same delightful Oxford time travel team, this is a very different story, much more a light-hearted romp through Victorian England with references to mystery novels of that time (and later times). In spite of how very different the tone of the book is, I loved it as well. It’s like Doctor Who–some episodes are fun and frothy, even if the space-time continuum is in danger of collapsing (as it is in this book), while some are much darker and more frightening, but I love both kinds of stories in Doctor Who and in Connie Willis novels.
The story begins in the charred remains of the recently bombed Coventry Cathedral during World War II, where some of our intrepid Oxford time travelers are searching for the bishop’s bird stump, which as the novel goes on, we learn is an object as ridiculous as it sounds. The driving force behind the relentless search across time and various locations in England is the formidable Lady Schrapnell. She’s on a mission to rebuild Coventry Cathedral as close to its original state as possible, and she will leave myriad time traveling historians time-lagged and exhausted if that’s what it takes.
Our hero is Ned Henry, who arrives back from another unsuccessful search for the bishop’s bird stump and is sent on an (he thinks) easier assignment to Victorian England where he can get some rest away from Lady Schrapnell’s demands. Unfortunately, he immediately messes up, due to his own time lag brain fog. He is supposed to be fixing a problem caused by fellow historian, but they are adorably hopelessly befuddled at every turn. There are mysteries to be solved–not of the murder variety, though there are delightful homages to mystery novels as well as to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. I won’t spoil the mysteries, but it’s a fun, screwball-like romp and I loved it. The characters were a bit less deep and well-drawn than in Doomsday Book, but the book didn’t suffer since it had such a different tone.
This book has time travel, Victorian seances, befuddled Oxford dons, romance, comedy, and an adorable bulldog and pretty black cat with white mitten feet. It’s just a delight if you find those things as fun as I do.