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To Say Nothing of the Dog
by Connie Willis
Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog is a time travel story, a mystery, a romance, and a screwball comedy: think Bringing Up Baby meets Three Men in a Boat. It features some of the time-travelling Oxford historians from Willis's award-winning Doomsday Book, but it's not a direct sequel, and it's much more fun.
In the mid-twenty-first century, the formidable Lady Schrapnell has donated a small fortune to the Oxford University department of time travel in order to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed during a Nazi bombing raid. Among the Oxford researchers is Ned Henry, who has made so many drops into the cathedral's past that he's suffering from a dangerously advanced case of "time-lag".
The infirmary prescribes two weeks of bedrest with no time travel, but the only way Ned can avoid Lady Schrapnell for that long is to escape into the past -- into Victorian England, to be precise. He just has to run a vital errand in that era for the department first. Unfortunately, Ned's time-lag is so bad that he's not sure what the errand is; but if he fails, history could unravel around him.
Ned soon discovers that it's not easy to save the space-time continuum while coping with such horrors as fake seances, church jumble sales, English breakfast food, and Victorian interior decorating. The tone is so lighthearted that it's hard to believe the Fabric Of History is at stake. Willis repeatedly reminds the reader that history is a chaotic system, which appears to mean that it behaves according to the requirements of the plot. That plot is perhaps a bit overly convoluted, but it is tightly woven, and the writing is amusing throughout.
Willis frequently takes affectionate satirical pokes at P.G. Wodehouse, Jerome K. Jerome, and Dorothy Sayers, who are clearly among the story's inspirations. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a charming comedy of errors.
-- Christina Schulman.
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