(Only for Dr. Who fans! Credits)
If I ever try my hand at writing, this is the kind of book I’d like to write: a rambling, fun story that would work as an homage to all my favorite things.
I’d set it in Victorian England, throw in some science fiction, and for good measure write a few scenes during the London Blitz. The whole thing would probably end up like a sci-fi story written as a Victorian comedy of manners, which, as strange as that may sound, is exactly the brilliant book that Willis wrote.
If I wasn’t already ready to love it because of the concept, there would be other treats to persuade me:
Countless references to one of funniest books I’ve ever read – Three Men in a Boat – and to beloved writers like Christie, Wodehouse, Conan Doyle and Sayers.
Well, it wasn’t exactly the ending of an Agatha Christie mystery, with Hercule Poirot gathering everyone together in the drawing room to reveal the murderer and impress everyone with his astonishing deductive powers. And it definitely wasn’t a Dorothy Sayers, with the detective hero saying to his heroine sidekick, “I say, we make a jolly good detectin’ team. How about makin’ the partnership permanent, eh, what?” and then proposing in Latin.
At some point, Ned (the main character) actually crossed Jerome K. Jerome & Co. as they were traveling on the Thames in opposite directions. It was a priceless scene.
I’ve always been fascinated by Oxford, mostly because of books like Brideshead Revisited, Jude the Obscure and the His Dark Materials series. To Say Nothing of the Dog will add to that list.
One of the characters is an Eccentric Professor (I love eccentric professors in literature – usually great fun), engaged in a life-long debate with another Professor about what shapes history: individuals or grand forces?
There’s a dog! With a personality! And it doesn’t talk! I’m very particular about talking animals in books and movies. Overall I prefer the silent ones that still manage to be funny, like the chameleon in Tangled. Montmorency in Three Men in a Boat is another great example, and clearly the inspiration for the bulldog Cyril in To Say Nothing of the Dog.
Cyril shoved and shoved again, until he had the entire bed and all the covers, and Princess Arjumand [a cat] draped herself across my neck with her full weight on my Adam’s apple. Cyril shoved some more.
(Couldn’t resist: bulldog in a boat! Credits)
The story was wacky and chaotic, but all the literary and historical references made it feel strangely cozy. I suspect Connie Willis and I would get along just fine.
She looked appalled. “You weren’t prepped? Victorian society’s highly mannered. Breaches of etiquette are taken very seriously.” She looked curiously at me. “How have you managed thus far?”
“For the past two days I’ve been on the river with an Oxford don who quotes Herodotus, a lovesick young man who quotes Tennyson, a bulldog, and a cat,” I said. “I played it by ear.”
It’s such a quotable book:
One of the first symptoms of time-lag is a tendency to maudlin sentimentality, like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold-sober.
One has not lived until one has carried a sixty-pound dog down a sweeping flight of stairs at half-past V in the morning.
The reason Victorian society was so restricted and repressed was that it was impossible to move without knocking something over.
On the interest of transparency, I’d like to confess that despite all the above I didn’t give To Say Nothing of the Dog a perfect 5/5. However, the little things that didn’t feel quite right, didn’t ruin the overall delight of the book.
Ned is a likable everyman-type hero, but we never get to know much about him or his personal history before the beginning of the book. Also, although the plot was easy to follow, some twists felt a bit predictable (I knew early on who Mr. C was), and the science part – when Willis describes the problems with continuum, slippage, incongruities, etc. – went over my head. Finally, although part of the story is set in 2057, it never felt like 2057.
As you see, small stuff compared with the Reasons to Love It: delightful characters, funny dialogues, a good amount of geeky literary references, to say nothing of Cyril…
PS: I am the only one to go all dyslexic with the author’s name and call her Wilkie Collins in my mind?
Other thoughts: things mean a lot, Shelf Love, Book Lust, The Written World, Farm Lane Books, Becky Book Reviews, Books and Movies, Booklover Book Reviews, Killin’ Time Reading, A Good Stopping Point, A Little Reader, Beth Fish Reads, Bookgirl’s nightstand, Gripping Books, Opinions of a Wolf, Stella Matutina, Rat’s Reading, Dogear Diary, Everyday Reading, Dusk Before Dawn, Library Queue, Semicolon, Nose in a Book, Mervi’s Book Reviews, (yours?)