I absolutely devoured Doomsday Book a few weeks ago in a matter of days, which at 600 pages, was a relatively fast pace. This book, 500 pages, similar in its conceit took me longer in terms of days and a lot longer in terms of energy spent. I languished with this one at times, and while I sometimes run cold with Willis, I was hoping for a similar set of reactions to the previous novel of hers that I read.
So the conceit here is pretty much the same, we return to the world of Doomsday Book and Fire Watch (both books, like I said, I liked a lot), wherein the Oxford History departments uses time travel equipped with various protections (to both affect and not affect various futures). The system basically works that minor changes that would not affect the future are not corrected for, while large scale effects are. The goal of the total system is to look for causations and ripples from large historical events, not unlike the ways in which Tolstoy describes history in the final section of War and Peace.
So, this book gives us a hero who has spent way too long making time travel jumps and finds himself experiencing time lag. He is ordered to take some R and R, but a crisis arises and no other historians are available, and he is sent back to Victorian England to fix a minor problem and instructed to use that time to recuperate. And as you can imagine, the crisis ends up being much more serious than anticipated. But because this book is a comedy, the crisis stems from a series of mishaps and miscommunications, and of course, he falls in love.
The title of the book comes from the subtitle to Jerome K Jerome’s 1880s novel “Three Men on a Boat” about three ne’er do wells who take a boating trip, wherein hilarity occurs.
And this is the issue with this novel for me. It plays and acts and mimics at masquerade. Connie Willis is not British, and it shows painfully at times. During Doomsday Book things work out fine, but in this book, I find the play at a culture she isn’t to be clunky, mishandled, and worst, boring at times. It’s not the first time, I’ve found this true about her writing, but I find it be specifically egregious here.