Sunday, January 13, 2013

Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

How does one stumble across (the second in a series) alternate history about time-traveling historians published in 1998? Why John Green tells you to read it, of course. (Ok, he told everyone on YouTube, it is not like we share book lists or anything). I have never read the first book in the Oxford Time Travel series, so I approached To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis as a stand alone. And I am happy I read this QUIRKY book- it was very smart and very fun.
From Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, comes a comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel... Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest.  He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump.  It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.   But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past.  Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right--not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself. (GoodReads).

Level of Originality: 10 +. Alternate history, time travel, and hilarious historians. I LOVED how fresh this felt. But a warning, this book expects a lot of you. You need to hit the ground running to be ready to embrace this original mash-up. It was a bit hard to get into the book and figure out what was going on, but that could be because it was the second in a series. 
Level of Absurdity: 10. This is supposed to be absurd- it is a fish out of water story with Ned totally unprepared for the Victorian era.  This is something of a comedy of coincidences, so it is very silly. I giggled a lot.
Level of Paranormal Romance: 2. Minimal romance, but I was pleasantly surprised when Ned got moves at the end of the book. Apparently he is dashing in his straw boater hat. I like it! 
Level of Harry Potter-ness: 7. This book requires focus and dedication. The narration is complicated. Since it is told from Ned's POV when he is confused, the narration is confused, etc. After I got the hang of this, I loved that I was being challenged to fully engage with the structure of Willis's writing and all of the history asides. It might not be for everyone, but this history grad student got a kick out of it.


  1. I do dig time travel books and this one sort of reminds me of 'The Map of Time' by Felix Palma. I wonder if it would be worth it to ease into the series by starting at Book #1? I mean, can this one reasonably function as a stand alone?

    1. I think so! I really enjoyed it, and I think I will check out others in the series. Some of the Oxford series seem like companions, and some like direct series.

  2. Wow, you have eclectic taste. TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG is rarely mentioned in blogs like these, but I think it is one of the funniest books ever written.


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