Hi everyone, my name is Gabriella and I’m thrilled to be a new blogger here! I’ve found TGNA to be a great resource and community for writers in the past, and I hope to contribute to that. For my first post, I’m reviewing a book I read this past spring that mixes humor and time travel.
Children’s and adolescent literature are where my heart is, and because I studied both areas in undergrad and will continue to do so at Hollins University, it’s no surprise that the majority of the books I read are middle grade and young adult novels. However, from time to time, there will be an adult novel (outside of the thriller genre, which I usually read) that catches my attention and pulls me from my MG/YA orbit.
Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of those novels. It’s the second book in the Oxford Time Travel series, and though you definitely don’t need to read the first installment to enjoy this one (I didn’t even know it was part of a series when I began reading it), the fast-paced nature of things once the story really gets going, not to mention the time-travel lingo, may throw you for a while. Don’t worry, though, you’ll pick it up, it’s all part of the ride.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads, though if the title alone isn’t enough to intrigue you—it was the entire reason I picked up the novel in the first place—I don’t know what will:
Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop’s bird stump. It’s part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.
But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right–not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.
The object that is brought back from the past forms a major part of the novel’s plot, obviously, so I won’t reveal what it is here. Suffice it to say this novel shows the butterfly effect in action and how changing one little thing can cause such chaos. While I do enjoy time-travel fiction, they also tend to confuse me a lot, and I end up just going with the flow while reading them, never bothering to stop and figure out if the author’s mechanics make sense. I didn’t have that problem with this novel, because as the narrative unfolded, everything just sort of slotted into place.
In addition to taking place during the future (circa 2057) and World War II, as indicated by the summary, the majority of the novel is actually set during the Victorian era, and I’ve heard this book described as a comedy of manners. I’d say this is accurate, especially as some of the most humorous scenes in the novel derive from misunderstandings and interactions that occur between the time-travelers and the inhabitants of Victorian England in their native time. These incidents generally focus on Ned and Verity’s quest to get a girl named Tossie together with a mysterious Mr. C, as well as to see for themselves where the bishop’s bird stump (said to be a particularly hideous looking artifact) is located in Coventry Cathedral. All of the non-futuristic settings are amazingly well-researched.
Aside from all the aspects that I’ve already mentioned (and which I adored), what clinched my love for this book was the ending, when all of what has happened is thrown into question. To be perfectly honest, this was a little bit disheartening, especially as it did take me a little bit to get into the swing of reading this book (and I do not believe that this bit is addressed in subsequent books), but after some reflection, I decided I liked it—to say nothing of the fact that there are more Oxford Time Travelers to journey with in the future.