This is the third Connie Willis I've read, and I was a little leery. While I really enjoyed Passage
, Lincoln's Dreams
was pretty much the same book, written earlier, and less well. So I was a little worried about her recycling plots. And maybe she does, but this book has very little in common with either earlier book, and was thoroughly delightful and surprising.To Say Nothing of the Dog
is hard to explain. It is madcap, in love with the nineteenth century and its literature, full of inventive thought about time travel and the applications thereof, and has elements of both a mystery and a slamming-door farce - with a healthy dose of spiritualism.
The main character, Ned Henry, is a historian. That is to say, a time traveller. (Seriously, when do I get my TARDIS? If it's not issued with my Ph.D. I'm going to be pretty damn disappointed.) Time travel, however, has proven slipperier than expected, and hard to monetize. So when Lady Schrapnell (with an attitude to match her name) appears and sponsors them in order to make sure everything is accurate for her rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during the blitz, absolutely everyone is dancing to her tune.
But in the midst of the search for the hideous bishop's bird stump vase, and whether or not it was in the Cathedral when it was bombed, a historian in the 19th century brings back a cat with her. This shouldn't be possible, and may create an incongruity which could, in turn, ruin everything. So a time-lagged Ned is sent back with the cat, a set of instructions he didn't hear, and seems to start off by a) not returning the cat and b) making it so that two young people meet and fall in love, when both are supposed to marry other people - one of whom is Lady Schrapnell's great-great-grandmother.
Ned and Verity, the woman who rescued the cat, attempt to part the two lovers, with the aid of a seance, the cat, and the bishop's bird stump, while dodging Lady Schrapnell's demands, and trying to figure out what is causing the problems in time travel. Doors are slammed, ghosts are seen, dogs are smuggled upstairs to bedrooms. (Cyril the bulldog is probably my favourite character)
It's all a grand glorious mess - but it might just be part of the universe's master plan to correct an incongruity. Or is it?
If that didn't leave you confused, nothing will. I make no promises everything will become automatically clear if you read the book, but it is a great deal of fun and thoroughly enjoyable. My head was frequently spinning, but in a good way.