Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the DogConnie Willis
Awards: Hugo
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ –

This was the first book I ever read by Connie Willis. It was a complete surprise. I had never even heard of her and here was this fantastic book.

This book is a time travel story. In the story’s present (our future), an English society woman is restoring an old church and is planning a gala for its opening. She wants everything to be exactly historically accurate. So she wangles her way into getting an Oxford historian, Ned, to go back to the Victorian era to recover an extremely ugly piece of art – the bishop’s bird stump – that used to be in the church.

Ned has already been on several successive trips back in time retrieving objects for this gala and he is going a bit nutty (time travel takes a lot out of you). As part of this current assignment, which he is none too happy with, he meets up with eccentric Victorian characters including a dotty Oxford professor, a group of women obsessed with séances, a curmudgeonly aristocrat with a collection of exotic fish, and the aristocrat's flighty daughter whose cat keeps eating the fish. He also keeps bumping into other historians, one of whom is on an odd mission of his own that cannot be revealed to Ned (or the reader) for fear of screwing up history and thereby screwing up the present.

With all this, it would be easy for the book to be slapsticky but it isn’t. The eccentricities of the wealthy aristocrats and the behavior of the historians and her description of Victorian decorating styles are hilarious but the characters are also sympathetic and appealing and the story is suspenseful.

This book only made me want to read more of her writing. Luckily there is much more.

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