To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998)

by Connie Willis

To Say Nothing of the Dog blends several genres: science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, adventure, comedy, and historical fiction. Whatever its category, it's a smart, fun read.

Time travel in 2057 has become so easy that protagonist Ned Henry is able to shuttle between Oxford's time travel research project to 1940 to 1888 within the space of a few hours. His mission — to appease a project funder by locating a bishop "bird stump," an ugly Victorian artifact that may or may not have been disintegrated in the 1940 Nazi bombing of Coventry Cathedral — has sent him on too many "drops" in a short time, producing advanced time lag. Ned is sent to 1888 to recover in the supposedly sedate Victorian era but is drawn into a mystery that has more serious consequences for humankind than what happened to the bishop's bird stump. Another research project historian has carried a cat from 1888 to 2057 — an "incongruity" (it's thought that nothing can be carried forward from its own time) that threatens to change the past.

Not surprisingly, Ned falls in love with the beautiful historian as they struggle to stop history from altering itself — and to find the bird stump. As author Willis pulls together all of the pieces at the end, she proves herself adept at philosophy as well as rip-snorting storytelling. To Say Nothing of the Dog delivers a poignant message about the interconnectivity of everything in the world: nothing is insignificant, everything (even a cat) matters.

Wondering where the title of the book came from? It's the subtitle of Jerome K. Jerome's hilarious Three Men in a Boat (1889), whose characters actually cross Ned's path. Willis also drops allusions to Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Wilkie Collins — for fans of those authors, that's icing on a delectable cake.


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