Mistaken assumptions – Victorian literature – house party mysteries – fictional detectives – the timelessness of history – the unreliability of perception – love at first sight – the nature of cats – this conversation has happened before – this conversation will certainly happen again – the indomitable will of a woman on a mission – Ned really needs a vacation.
First and foremost, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis is a fun read. It is a smart, comedic, time-traveling Sci-fi novel which primarily takes place in the English countryside in the summer of 1888. I’m not going to get too much into the science and rules around time travel, except to say that time travel exists, it is primarily a research tool for historians, and there are natural laws that govern time travel. One of the laws of time travel is that you cannot bring anything of significance from one time to another. Another law is that, in effect, history protects itself.
Ned Henry is a Cambridge historian, specializing in the 20th century. He has been dragooned into a massive research project by the formidable Lady Schrapnell. Though suffering from severe time-lag, he sent on a mission in Victorian England, an era outside his area of expertise. For a good portion of the first 1/4 of the book, Ned is disoriented and his understanding of words is suspect. He completely misunderstands the situation, which leads to a lot of mistaken assumptions. Though he has some familiarity with Victorian literature, specifically Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog).”
Gradually, the pieces and threads come together as Ned comes to grips with the mystery of the cat, the identity of Mr. C___, and the whereabouts of the Bishop’s Bird Stump. Along the way, Ned falls in love with his colleague Verity, and discovers that some conversations are universal, no matter the time period. In fact I was very pleasantly left with the impression that no matter how much science and/or society develops, certain things will remain the same – people will believe in the illogical, men and women will disagree in the acceptable pace of repairs, and a woman with a strength of purpose will get her way.
This is a comedic time-travel novel, so everything works out just as it should. While it is a fun read, it is not popcorn. There is substance to chew on while you enjoy the often farcical romp through a Victorian Summer week in the country.