Connie Willis, To Say nothing of the dog, Bantam Spectra, 1997.
When someone tells me they don't like reading science-fiction but would like to give it another try anyway, To Say nothing of the dog is the book I always recommend. It's also one of my all times favourites...
Time travel is a reality in the 21st century. The only problem is that you can't bring back an object from the past. So very quickly the corporations that funded the research and would have loved to pillage the past have left the field to researchers and scientists. Who, of course, lack of funds. Happily, some rich people offer their patronage. But Lady Schrapnel's patronage comes with a price: she has asked that the Coventry Cathedral, that was destroyed during the Second World War, must be rebuilt in its tiniest details in Christ Church Meadows in Oxford (1). The keywords are "tiniest details", because here comes Ned Henry, an historian, desperately seeking the Bishop's bird stump, a vase that disappeared during the Luftwaffe raid.
The story begins when Ned who did too many time travel jumps suffers from time lag in the middle of the Coventry Cathedral the day after the raid, and because of this time lag he has as much common sense as a Shelley or a Coleridge on a stroll in the countryside on a spring morning after having enjoyed a laudanum breakfast. He's brought back to his contemporary Oxford where his superior, Mr Dunworthy gives him two missions: to go the Victorian Oxford with something and to take a two weeks vacation there.
Ensue chaos, confusion, drowning Oxford dons, anachronistic naiads, machiavellian croquet, con spiritists, Thames boating, a gourmet cat, to say nothing of the dog.
To Say nothing of the dog is the perfect summer read: it's extremely funny (even if the first chapter is, by design, quite confusing), light and with a classic whodunnit. The characters are very well drawn, the dialogues are witty and for whoever loves English culture it's absolutely delicious. The time travel aspect is also really here with a few paradoxes thrown into the mix.
It's the second volume in a trilogy that focus on the time travel laboratory in Oxford: the two other stories are different and all can be read independently (2).
So if you like time travel stories, if you like Victoriana in the English countryside, if you like a good whodunnit and if you want a smart and funny novel, this one is for you!
To Say nothing of the dog has won the Hugo and Locus Awards.
(1) To anyone who is a bit hazy on English geography, Christ Church Meadows is a beautiful meadow in the centre of Oxford, by the Thames. Coventry is a city about a 100 kilometres from Oxford and the rebuilt cathedral is, shall we say kindly, pretty hideous.
(2) If one day I have no idea which novel I'd like to talk about, I'll write a post about the third story which is in two parts, Black Out et All Clear. It takes place during the Blitz in London and it's a wonderful story.
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