Saturday, November 25, 2006

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last)

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump At Last)

Connie Willis

Date: 01 December, 1998   —   $6.75   —   Book

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Fiction, Science Fiction

This is set in the same Oxford as Doomsday Book, a few years later, but where Doomsday Book is a tragedy, this is a comedy. The title is taken from the humorous novel by Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) and displays many of the sensibilities that have made Jerome's novel such a classic: farcical happenings, whimsical characters, and comings and goings and confusions all around.

At the center is Ned Henry, a student of the 20th century, who is trying to determine what happened to the sculptural vase referred to as "the bishop's bird stump" after the raid on Coventry Cathedral in 1940. The all-too-aptly named Lady Schrapnell is rebuilding Coventry Cathedral in Oxford and wants everything to be exactly as it was the day of the raid, and what Lady Schrapnell wants, she gets. So poor Ned has been bounced hither and yon, copying inscriptions and attending jumble sales, and has done so many drops to the past in the last week that he is severely time lagged, a condition much like jet-lag and lack of sleep but, of course, far more whimsical.

What Ned needs is rest, but with Lady Schrapnell in the picture, rest is out of the question. Then a new problem arises: a historian brings something back from the past, which should be impossible. Mr. Dunworthy proposes that Ned be the one to return it, and then take his needed rest, back in the Victorian age, someplace where Lady Schrapnell cannot follow. Naturally, Things Are Not What They Seem, and the confusion accompanying the time-lag keeps Ned from understanding what exactly he's supposed to do. Worse is the fact that he knows very little about Victorian times, and has to fake his way through a very ordered society. And worse still are the indications that the continuum may be breaking down...

It is impossible to read this book without laughing or at least grinning like an idiot. It has its mystery moments, as they try to figure out what is going on, and a sharp-eyed reader might just possibly figure it out with a lot of intuition. What I find interesting is that it both poses a question for Doomsday Book and answers it; it is even possible that trying to fit the ending of that book into her mental rules for time travel sparked the idea that became this book.

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