I came across Connie Willis’ novel To Say Nothing of the Dog and it sounded like something I would enjoy, but figured I had best read Jerome K Jerome’s classic Three Men in a Boat first as it is the story that Willis riffs off of for her own. While Three Men in a Boat was amusing, I grew tired of it and had to force myself to slog through to get to the end. I think I would have enjoyed it more when I was younger but I am old and cranky and J. and his friends mostly just annoyed the snot out of me. It is a travelogue about J. and two of his friends spending a fortnight on the Thames, along with J.’s dog Montmorency. It describes the places they pass by and the people they meet, along with anecdotes those places bring to mind for him. I seem to have a limited tolerance for entitled white dudes carousing through the countryside and the fact that the author pokes fun at himself as he laughs at his comrades and others he meets didn’t do much to mollify me. I can see why so many people do enjoy it but it just didn’t click for me. Two stars for this one – it would have been a DNF if not for the Willis book.
To Say Nothing of the Dog did hit the right notes for me, and I am glad I read the Jerome book first just because it was fun to see how it played off of that book. Willis’ story involves time travelers who are pressed into service by an exceptionally wealthy and overbearing donor to help her recreate Coventry Cathedral just as it was before it was destroyed by bombs in WWII. One of them manages to do something that should be impossible and brings a cat that she has rescued from being drowned forward with her into the future. Because of fears that this could cause events in the past to change, another time traveler is tasked with returning the cat so that time might resume its proper course. Sadly, however, this second time traveler – Ned – is exhausted and suffering from severe time-lag brought on by too many time jumps spent looking for an object that the aforementioned donor insists must be found for the restoration and fails to achieve his task. He must try to set things right while passing as a proper Victorian, which is difficult for poor Ned, given that he was addled by time-lag when given his rushed assimilation lessons.
Ned falls in with a young man who talks him into renting a boat for them, and there is, of course, a dog involved, and Ned is delighted to find himself embarking on a journey so much like that in Jerome K. Jerome’s classic. The cat rescuer, Verity, is sent back to help contain the damage as the time scientists in the future try to determine what the consequences of the temporal incongruity may be. Foremost is the importance of ensuring that a certain very important romance occurs – one that Ned’s actions seem to have disrupted. And there is still that blasted bishop’s birds stump to be found… To Say Nothing of the Dog is a tangled ball of science fiction, romance, mystery and comedy and it is very good fun. Four stars.
Crossposted to my blog