Tuesday, August 9, 2016

To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis (1998)

Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog (which I read back to back) are tied together by a couple of common characters (Finch, Mr. Dunworthy, Badri) and (a whole new set of) time traveling history students from Oxford, but two literary roads diverge here, and I'm glad I was able to take both.  They aren't completely unalike:  Connie Willis is Connie Willis after all, and both contain her signature fine craftsmanship, her attention to detail both in the setting and her carefully chosen words and phrases, and her delightfully real yet unique characters (I always think quirky, but they are much more than manic pixie girls and boys).    Doomsday Book is a thriller (or at the very least thrilling), and while To Say Nothing of the Dog has some thrilling bits at the end, at its heart it is a drawing room comedy and an "Agatha Christie" (sans murder but complete with a wickedly good mystery) but with more than a polish of science fiction that lights up the whole thing and makes it shine.

There is this scene towards the end where three ladies of the 1930s in a bookshop who are described in various types of fox furs, discussing the latest Agatha Christie, and one says "There's this girl who someone is attempting to murder, or at least that's what one's supposed to think.  Actually --" and her friend cuts her short because of course everyone hates Spoilers.  But my little grey cells went "That's Peril at End House" which puts that bit of time travel to 1932 or at the latest 1933.

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2)To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Always difficult to write about Connie Willis without a meaningless cascade of words like "love" and "awesome" and "extraordinary" and "brilliant" and five hundred other superlatives. Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog exist in the same universe where time traveling historians from Oxford jaunt back and forth between their present (our near future) and the past, but the two books diverge in a literary wood, and I'm so glad I took both roads. To Say Nothing once again showcases the Willis's literary mastercraft, but this time she hones her sharp wit, creating a plot in which a screwball comedy and the very best of Agatha Christie have a science fiction baby on the banks of the Thames circa 1888. A Willis isn't a Willis without sparkling screwball dialogue that would sit well in the drawing room of the Lords of Philadelphia, with a tiger on a chain in tow, detailed and delightful settings and set pieces, madcap-ness, and some serious saving of the world as well. This may be her best?


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