1990s Other Prizes Science Fiction

To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis

Winner of the Hugo Award 1999

To Say Nothing of the Dog was the first book I bought as the direct result of a recommendation from a book blogger. Last year I was new to blogging and was overwhelmed by the number of blogs I discovered. I jumped from one to the next, leaving random comments, but never remembering where I’d been or how to get back there.

Beth’s blog was one of the first that I subscribed to and she was the first person I felt I developed a relationship with. When I saw Beth recommend this book in her Best of 2008 post, I bought a copy. I then decided that I’d better read Three Men in Boat first, and so bought that too. Buying two books in quick succession, as a result of a blogger recommendation, quickly became a worryingly common occurrence, but back then it felt very new and strange. Could I really trust the judgement of someone I didn’t really know? It turns out I can!

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reading this, but I am really glad that I have. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a lovely, heart warming book which begins with a frantic search for the bishop’s bird stump in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. The bird stump is crucial to the reconstruction of the cathedral in 2057 and is believed to have been lost during bombing raids in WWII. Historian, Ned Henry, is sent back in time to try to recover it before it is lost forever. His hunt is unsuccessful, so he is sent back to the Victorian era to track it down. Unfortunately for Ned, the frequency of his time travel leads him to suffer from time-lag – a condition similar to jet-lag, that leaves him disorientated and confused.  Ned ends up in a boat on the River Thames and begins a mad-cap adventure involving everything from cats to complex time travel phenomenon.

It is based around Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and shares it’s classic Victorian wit. To understand this book it isn’t necessary to have read Three Men in a Boat beforehand, but if you aren’t familiar with the text then you will miss out on some of the subtle parodies.

The book lost a lot of momentum in the middle section, but picked up again towards the end. Some aspects of the book didn’t work very well – the romance didn’t feel very natural and the characters didn’t behave very realistically in some situations, but as this book is a spoof rather than a serious piece of literature I will forgive it!

Overall, if you pick this book up expecting a light, humorous read then you are sure to enjoy it, just don’t analyse it too much!

Recommended to Jasper Fforde fans.


Did you enjoy To Say Nothing of the Dog?

Do you recommend any of her other books?

30 replies on “To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis”

Fabulous sounding book and what a fabulous blog, really enjoyed the story behind why you have chosen to read it. I find it very hard to imagine life pre-blogging, not life in general – not that dramatic, but life without the community spirit have found out there in the ether.

Simon, I remember having no books I wanted to read and wandering round libraries picking things up at random. I was so often disappointed that I read much less than I do now. I am so pleased I discovered blogging. It has improved my life so much!

Gosh, Jackie! I can’t believe I was your fist step down into that dark, dark hole of buying blogger-recommended books!

I totally agree with your assessment of the book. It’s not one to analyze — after all they are time traveling and searching for the bishop’s bird stump! I really need to read something else by Willis.

I’m pretty sure this is one of the first books I read as a result of another blogger too! I really liked it and I’m looking forward to reading some of her other novels.

Lahni, I’m sure I’ll pick up her other books when I find them. I’ll keep an eye out for reviews of her other books now.

I own this book and have been thinking about finally reading it but like you, I wanted to re-read Three Men in a Boat first to refresh my memory. I’m glad to hear that it was entertaining and funny because that’s exactly what I’m looking for right now.

Lilly, Three Men in a Boat is entertaining and funny too, so it sounds as though you are going to get just what you want!

Now I’m even happier that I managed to mooch a copy of this the other day – it sounds right up my alley! I think I’ll read Three Men in a Boat first, though. I’ve been meaning to read it anyway, and I don’t want to miss out on anything!

Nymeth, Congratulations on mooching a copy – there were none around when I wanted it, so you’ve done well! Three Men in a Boat is very short, so it isn’t really a big deal to read it first. I hope you enjoy them!

Oh, I remember when I hadn’t yet discovered Google Reader, or made a page where I noted down all the books I wanted. That was difficult, those days.

I read Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book and I was unimpressed. I’ve been trying to decide whether I want to read this one – I enjoyed Three Men in a Boat, but – mm, decisions, decisions.

Jenny, So much has changed since we first started blogging hasn’t it?! It is great!

I haven’t read The Doomsday Book, so I’m afraid I can’t help you. Was The Doomsday Book funny? To Say Nothing of the Dog has a writing style very similar to 3 Men in a Boat, so if you liked one then you’ll probably like the other, but I don’t really know….

I have Three Men in a Boat on my shelf, so I will definitely want to read it before I read this one. I have wanted to try Willis for a while as I have heard she is brilliant and funny and sometimes even brilliantly funny! And now that you have said Jasper Fforde fans will love this book… well, I choose to view this as you specifically recommending it for me! 😉

Steph, Yes, she is brilliantly funny! I thought the writing style was very similar to Jasper Fforde, so I’m sure you’ll love it.

Dorte, LOL! She didn’t win best new blog for nothing!! She has great taste in books! I am sure I’ll buy many more of her books in the future.

I read Three Men and a Boat earlier this year and got quite a kick out of it. I have this book and have been meaning to read it for years. Jenny is a big fan of Connie Willis and has reviewed several of her books on our blog, but I still haven’t gotten around to her.

Cathy, It is good to know that almost all her books are worth reading – I’ll keep an eye out for them.

Beth Fish Reads was the blogger in my post, too! I enjoyed Three Men in a Boat, but haven’t heard of To Say Nothing of the Dog – I will definitely have to check it out.

I thought this one was great, although it took me a little while to get into it. Plus, if I ever get a kitten, I know what I’m naming it! I also really loved Doomsday Book, although it is VERY different from TSNotD… not so much humor/farce as sob-out-loud heartwrenching.

I’ve been meaning to read some of her other (lesser-known?) books, but haven’t yet gotten the chance.

Fyrefly, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I agree about the cat name! I’m interested in the Doomsday Book now – I’d like to see how she does more straight fiction writing. I think the humor was the main strength of this book – not sure how good her writing would be without it…

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