To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

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Ned Henry is a time traveler who has been tasked with finding out whether an item known as the bishop’s bird stump was in Coventry Cathedral when it was bombed during WW2. He comes down with a case of time-lag due to too much time travel and is sent to the Victorian era to rest. However, the Victorian era isn’t as restful as he had hoped because a missing cat might cause time itself to unravel.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a humorous book inspired by Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (the characters from Three Men in a Boat even make a cameo appearance). The book is thoroughly researched and I learned many things. Bulldogs were originally bred to fight bulls and bears, for instance. It does mention that many time periods are a no-go for dark-complexioned people.

I thought it funny that the Victorians complained about the railroad ruining their view of nature since today many cities are almost entirely devoid of nature. The book pokes fun at spiritualism, which was popular at the time and Ned discovers the origin of jumble sales, which are the bane of his existence.

Ned expects breakfast at a country manor to consist of eggs and bacon, but is told that’s commoner food. Breakfast instead consists of a bunch of weird stuff like curried rice, smoked fish, and deviled kidneys.

Victorians were so uptight, they wouldn’t even use the word “pregnant” to describe a cat. It’s a bit horrifying that kittens were routinely killed during the Victorian era due to there being too many of them.

Throughout the novel, characters mention numerous examples of times when a battle was seemingly won or lost due to a minor detail like a general not getting a message, Napoleon having hemorrhoids one day, the weather, etc. The stakes of getting things right is therefor high since two people not meeting each other could lead to their war-hero grandson not being born, which in turn could lead to a Nazi victory in WW2.

A future pandemic is mentioned, but it occurs before 2020, so the author didn’t quite predict the future. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a delightful story not only featuring humor, but also romance with multiple couples getting together by the end, and there’s also the mystery of what happened to the bishop’s bird stump that gets resolved like a classic Agatha Christie mystery.

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