Thursday 5 July 2007

Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A time-travelling comedy, following Ned Henry who is kept shuttling between the 21st century, World War 2 and late Victorian England, in order to rescue a grotesque piece of statuary from Coventry Cathedral before it is destroyed in the Blitz, so that it can be installed in a recreation of the cathedral. His task is not helped by the arbitrariness of the time-travelling system, which has its own bizarre logic and sometimes misses the planned target, nor by the fact that repeated use of the system tends to fog the mind. During all of this, he undertakes a boat journey on the Victorian River Thames which is an hommage to Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. Much misunderstanding, humour, chaos and romance occur before victory is achieved.

This is a well-researched and well-written book, with many amusing scenes, but I did find it a bit much at times. The comic misunderstandings come so thick and fast that it reminded me of a Whitehall farce (in which people keep hopping in and out of bedrooms, hiding in wardrobes and mistaking each other's identities). This is alright in small doses, but became a bit of a strain for me when sustained over a nearly 500 page book. I nearly gave up at one point, but kept going by means of rationing my reading to a chapter or two each evening. I'm pleased I did, because I enjoyed it in the end and will keep it for a re-read - but not for quite a while!


Bill Garthright said...

It's been a few years since I read this. I really enjoyed it, but what struck me was the contrast between this book and "Doomsday Book," her 1992 Hugo and Nebula Award-winner. They're both set in the same time-traveling world (though to a different past time, of course), but the contrast in mood couldn't be greater. This is a comedy, but the Doomsday Book... isn't (it involves the Black Death). I thought Willis handled both moods quite well, and if you want to see both in the same book, try "Passage" (2001). That's my favorite Connie Willis book, and it has everything - humor, horror, mystery, romance, suspense, etc.

Anthony G Williams said...

Thanks for the tip Bill - I'll probably pass on 'Doomsday Book', but 'Passage' sounds more promising!