To Say Nothing of the Dog takes place two years after the events of Doomsday Book, but either book can be read on its own without regard for the other. Oxford historian Mr. Dunworthy is the only character of any note who plays a role in both books. But whereas in that book, the focus is on a terrible plague (which they call the Pandemic in this book), this one is focused on the seemingly impossible quest for an inscrutable historical object, the bishop’s bird stump. (I had no idea what the hell a bird stump was, either, don’t worry about it.)
In the year 2057, time travel has long been discovered, and because it cannot be used to plunder history of valuable items and thus cannot be used to make money, it has been relegated for the use of historians only. The time-traveling historians of Oxford have lately been co-opted by the will of a wealthy donor named Lady Schrapnell who has put all the powers of her considerable personality into rebuilding the Coventry Chapel that was destroyed in 1940 during an air raid, and she intends to rebuild it in exact detail, right down the bishop’s bird stump, which no one can find.
Enter Ned Henry, who we first meet as he’s suffering from the worst case of time lag anyone has ever seen (symptoms include difficulty distinguishing sounds, a tendency to maudlin-sentimentality, fatigue and disorientation). Lady Schrapnell has been sending him on drop after drop going to historical jumble sales, all in search of the bishop’s bird stump. He’s finally sent back to 1888 supposedly to recover for two weeks where she can’t find him, but really he’s also on a mission to correct a time incongruity. Only, he’s so befuddled by time lag when he’s given the mission, he has no idea what’s going on, and he ends up blundering from one encounter to the next.
All that blundering about is the reason it took me so long to get into the book. Ned was confused and befuddled, and so was I. But then as it went along and I got the flow of it (and got more in the mood for the ridiculous comedy of manners, farcical nature of it) I really did start to enjoy myself. Especially when Verity (another time-traveler), Princess Arjumand (a cat), and Terence and Cyril (a contemporary Oxford undergrad and his intense bulldog) enter the picture.
I’m really glad I stuck with this book, and will definitely be reading the next two books in the series (a duology, also safe to read without reading the first two). What I really want now, pretty badly, is a filmed version of this book. I would loooove to see befuddled Ned wandering around Victorian Oxford like a dum dum, and all the other stuff that happens afterwords (including a little romance).