Book: To Say Nothing of the Dog: How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last

Author: Connie Willis

This novel is a bit of an oldie (first published in 1997) but a goodie. In fact, it's so good that I'm sitting here wondering why you're not reading it right now. Well? Shoo! Go read it! What? You want to know what it's about? **sigh** Fine.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, is a science fiction novel about time travel(!), Victorians(!), and paradoxes(!). The year is 2057 and time travel has been perfected. Disappointingly, it proves to not be as interesting as the movies would lead us to believe. You see, the time stream seems to be able to protect itself to a certain extent by resisting all attempts to change the past.When the people of the future realize that they're not going to be able to steal the past's treasures or assassinate Hitler, they leave it to the realm of historians who dully go about fleshing out humanity's history.

Then Lady Schrapnell enters the scene. Back in the Victorian era, Lady Schrapnell's ancestor, Tossie Mering, had her life forever changed when she visited Coventry Cathedral and saw the bishop's bird stump there. (A bird stump is a vase shaped like a stump and decorated with birds. They were all the rage back then and just as ugly as the description sounds.) After reading Tossie's diary, her Ladyship feels that her life has been changed as well and becomes obsessed with rebuilding the cathedral to exactly how it was before the original building was destroyed in the Blitz. Promising a small fortune to the historians if they succeed, she begins to nag them mercilessly when they are unable to determine if the bird stump was there at the moment when the bombs began to fall.

The novel's hero, Ned Henry, is the leader of the 1940s expedition to determine if the bird stump was in the cathedral during the Blitz. Yet, he's made so many jumps to the past that he's developed a bad case of time lag (think of it as a terrible case of jet lag) and needs to rest. Knowing that there is no rest for him in the present (her Ladyship would nag him to death) and having an item that needs to be quickly returned to the past before the entire time stream self destructs, Ned's superiors send him to the Victorian era for a nice long rest. Unfortunately for them, Ned is so tired when they give him the mission that he arrives at the correct time not knowing where he is or why he's there.

Meeting up with Terence St. Trewes, a Oxford student in love, he finances the renting of a boat so that Terence can meet up with the love of his life, Tossie Mering. But according to history, Tossie is destined to marry the mysterious Mr. C! If Tossie marries Terence, does that mean that Lady Schrapnell will never be born? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Has Ned accidentally doomed the future by changing the past? Thus begins an adventure full of misunderstandings, time paradoxes, phony spiritualists, romance, kittens, a journey down a river, and a crime committed before it was even against the law. To say nothing of the dog, of course.
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3 Responses
  1. I've never heard of this book, but I'm writing the title down to find. I wonder if I can find it at an indie, especially since it's older.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Mimzy Says:

    It's still in print so you should be able to order it from a bookstore. Or, if your library has a good sci-fi section, it should be there. Apparently Connie Willis is a big name in sci-fi which makes me feel pretty bad since I had never heard of her before I found this book.

  3. Good to know- I'm headed to the library tomorrow so I'll check it out!

    Hehehe... No pun intended!