You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis, is another book about time travelers going to the past for their own purposes. But instead of big ideas and nefarious plots, the book is a lighthearted romp through Victorian England. The title and features of the book are taken from the Victorian book Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog, another lighthearted romp.

Ned Henry is a historian in the late twenty-first century who has been tasked to find the bishop's missing bird stump. He's part of a team trying to rebuild Coventry cathedral, which was destroyed by a Luftwaffe, and they want to make it as historically accurate as possible. After returning from 1945 where he was searching for the bird stump in the ruins of the cathedral, he is sent to 1888 to get some rest and relaxation, and get away from Lady Schrapnell, the imperious woman who insists on the strict schedule.

Ned runs into trouble in 1888 when he misses his contact and makes a local man miss meeting a woman who might end up being his wife. Ned and Verity, another historian who has traveled to 1888 to examine a diary, try to fix a discrepency in the timeline. It involves a cat, a dog, an Oxford professor, a butler or two, the cathedral, jumble sales, seances, and Lady Schrapnell's great great great grandmother.

Everything somehow comes together in the end, and there are clues throughout the story, just like in Verity's favorite mystery novels. Along the way, we learn a lot about history, including the battle of Waterloo and the Battle of Britain. Not only the facts of history, but also a theory of how little things matter and build up into big things. The classic horseshoe/horse/battle trope. Ned and Verity get in the middle of a huge mixup and come up with all sorts of combinations of fixes, with each one having various repurcussions. It turns out that the events in June 1888 may end up affecting the RAF and the Battle of Britain.

What really makes book fun is the events and mishaps, the interplay between all the colorful characters. Ned's confusion and misunderstandings form the basis of a complicated interweaving plot. The Victorian era is fertile ground for a comedy of errors.

The book is an A. It was amusing from start to finish, and I also learned something about history along the way. The story has that rare quality of being both a surprise and completely fitting.


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