To Say Nothing of the Dog
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This Hugo-winning novel (for 1999) is another in Connie Willis' Oxford Time Travel series. I had read Doomsday Book when it was first released, but missed this one for some reason. Then after reading her latest award-winner Blackout/All Clear (and loving it), I decided it was a good time to look back at this one. On another message board I frequent, I posted a link to my Blackout review and mentioned I would be reading this one next. Someone else made the comment that Blackout was good but it didn't hold a candle to To Say Nothing of the Dog. My assessment is the exact opposite.
Not that it wasn't an entertaining read, but after the more intense predicaments in Blackout it seemed very anti-climactic. I don't want to stray into spoiler territory, but I've already talked about the World War 2 scenarios featured in Willis' latest work; the London Blitz and the evacuation of British soldiers from Dunkirk, along with children evacuees and the V1 and V2 bombings. After that, the plight of various individuals in 1888 Victorian England (absent-minded professors, sťance-obsessed matrons, rich, frivolous and flighty maidens) didn't elicit much enthusiasm from me. On numerous occasions I set the book aside because it just didn't grab me the way I had anticipated.
Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but Willis could easily have titled this one To Say Nothing of the Cat. I suppose the reason she chose the "Dog" title is that was the subtitle of a Victorian era book by Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat, since the characters in it are briefly glimpsed early in this novel. She dedicated the book to Robert A. Heinlein because he had introduced her to Jerome's book by mentioning it in his final juvenile novel, Have Space Suit - Will Travel. I have a copy of "Three Men" but haven't read it yet. Perhaps I will read it before going on the next award-winning novel I'll review. To be fair, this novel does feature a dog, but the cat would seem to be the more important animal in the story. Or would it be one of the fish?
The cover image above is from my book club edition hardcover. On the front of the currently available paperback there is a critic's blurb that states "the most hilarious book of its kind since..." Again, I have to disagree. While it does have some humorous incidents and characters, I would hardly call it hilarious. Perhaps it's my sense of humor that is off, or maybe it is that other reviewer's.
Willis' plotting skills and character development are still evident here, I just wish they had been used in a more compelling narrative. Other than the final reveal of what caused the incongruity the historians were attempting to correct, I didn't really care about the outcome of the plot or what was happening to the characters. Quite a few things were much more predictable than in Blackout, including one that I have to assume Willis thought she was so clever in hiding until its reveal.
In conclusion, Willis is still one of the better authors around, and well-deserving of her many awards. This one fell a bit short in totally satisfying me, but it is apparent others have the opposite opinion, so it is recommended. There was a plot twist toward the end that seemed to foreshadow another future Oxford Time Travel book, but since that was not addressed in Blackout/All Clear, we can assume it might appear in a future novel. I do hope Willis gives us something in another vein in the meantime though.
Connie Willis' Official Website
My Connie Willis Profile page
My review of Doomsday Book
My review of Blackout/All Clear
ekt's review of Doomsday Book
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