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To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Review by Caleyna

If you enjoy stories about time travel, British history and the Victorian era you'll want to pick up Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog. Unfortunately I don't particularly enjoy any of those three things, which leads me to wonder why I picked this book up in the first place.

The cover promises "the most hilarious book of its kind since John Irving's The Water-Method Man. . .". It also tells me such things as "Willis effortlessly juggles comedy of manners, chaos theory, and a wide range of literary allusions with a near flawlessness of plot, character and prose." And don't forget that it is "swifty paced and full of laughter." Once again, these things may be true if you are into the kind of humor that Willis uses, but I'm simply not. Thus, I did not enjoy this book.

It's not to say that this is a bad book. It is just confusing and complicated if you don't have a good grasp on time travel theory and the history of British literature. I'm sure if I was familiar with all the things Willis was alluding to I'd have laughed. Since I'm not, I didn't find myself laughing a single time. I simply didn't know that it was supposed to be funny.

The characters are interesting enough. You have a guy from the not-so-distant future who is stuck in Victorian era England. He's an ok character, though he's kind of stupid when it comes to solving the big mystery. He also have a female counterpart who is working on the mystery. She's a little brighter, but not by much. The real intersting characters are the Victorians. They remind me of something straight out of an Oscar Wilde play--a Colonel who has no idea what's going on in his household, an over-bearing mother with a love for seances, and a really stupid, annoying brat of a Victorian era young lady. And, of course, we can't forget the butler--the poor, put up on butler who obviously is much more intelligent than his employers.

The basic plot of the story revolves around the time travellors making an incongruity in the space-time continum, then running around trying to fix it. This gets really confusing, as with all time travel novels, but at least Willis does make her time travel theory believable and logical. The big mystery revolves around a guy that one of the characters is supposed to marry, but they don't know who it is. They just know that if she doesn't marry him, the space-time continuam will go into a crisis. The biggest problem is that Willis gives the reader way too many clues, so I figured out who the mystery man was about 200 pages before the time travelers did. I am not sure if Willis intended it that way so that the reader could laugh at the antics of the time travelers, or if she was just being heavy handed.

At the end everything does get explained satisfactorily, though it was hard for me to stick with the book to get to all the necessary explanations. For several pages I was just wrinkling my brow and thinking "what? how can that be?". Willis saves the plot, but I still can't say that I really enjoyed the plot. In one way, it was way too complicated, yet in another it was way too easy.

Overall, I really didn't care for this book, though I can see that people who like British humor or time travel would probably really enjoy it. The plots in time travel books always seem too illogical to me b/c my mind is way too linear. Because it was not my type of book I'm not even going to try to give it a grade. It simply wouldn't be fair. I'll leave the grading to someone who enjoys this type of story.


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