When time-travelling historians working on a futuristic cathedral restoration project inadvertently change history, allowing Hitler to win the Second World War, persistent Ned Henry and beautiful Verity Kindle must infiltrate a Victorian household to set things right by uniting destined lovers. Such is my overwrought attempt to write a blurb for Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing Of The Dog, which could also be described as a mashup of Back To The Future with The Importance of Being Earnest.
There was a fair bit to like about the book. Time travel allows for a variety of settings, from the London blitz to medieval times. The characters are well-drawn, likeable and distinct. (My favourite was Cyril the bull dog.) The humour is genuinely likeable, the funniest moment being a little girl’s determination to win a treasure-hunting game at a féte despite lacking the necessary penny.
Willis makes several literary allusions. Your ability to comprehend them will partially determine your enjoyment of the novel. I recognised Lady Shrapnel, the tyrannical leader of the restoration project, as an echo of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, but I had no idea that the book’s title comes from that of a more famous one, apparently a comedic classic. And the author clearly has a love of detective fiction, with Verity frequently invoking Agatha Christie when dealing with the novel’s central dilemma. Willis also spoils the ending of The Moonstone, so watch out for that one.
Romance is another key theme of To Say Nothing of the Dog. As far as I’m concerned, the seeming inevitability of heterosexual relationships in fiction is one of the dullest things about it, but the love stories in this book weren’t too bad. They were plausible, all parties involved were warm and likeable, it was all very nice. Looking back I was somewhat surprised that our protagonists didn’t have a big fight in the second act, but I guess that saving history leaves little time to adhere to rom-com clichés.
I enjoyed To Say Nothing Of The Dog. If you know your Hercule Poirot from your Lord Peter Wimsey, you’ll enjoy it more. Same if you actually like romance. All round, good stuff that will appeal to more than just sci-fi readers.
‘The inevitability of heterosexual relationships in fiction is one of the dullest things about it.’ Feel free to quote me on that.