Classification: Past and Future Time Travel
It is the year 2057. Lady Schrapnell is a wealthy patron of Oxford’s university time travel research unit (time travel being already an established science). She promises to provide ample funding, if the unit can help her build an exact replica of Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed by Nazi bombing in 1940. The unit is so eager to get her endowment, that every member is going back and forth in time, looking for items which existed in the destroyed cathedral. One particular item, an esoteric piece of furniture called the Bishop’s Bird Stump is proving exceptionally hard to track down: was it stolen? burned during the bombing? No one manages to find an answer.
Ned Henry, the protagonist of To Say Nothing of the Dog – together with his teammates, repeatedly finds himself going to various periods in search of the elusive object. It’s almost as if someone is trying to keep this object from them. But the lady’s search eventually proves to be too much for poor Ned; after numerous jaunts to the past, Ned contracts a severe case of “Time Lag”. Thus, he goes for two weeks of rest in Oxford circa 1888. There he meets another time traveler, Verity Kindle, and realizes that he must fix a time anomaly accidentally caused by Verity when she brought something from the past.
Even worse, Ned’s very presence accidentally causes two lovers to never meet, and unintentionally he introduces someone to the girl whom she quickly falls in love with. He and Verity must to fix this as well, but the problem is that they are not exactly sure whom the girl was supposed to marry – her diary (which they’ve seen in the future) was unfortunately damaged in exactly the section describing these events.
Somehow the events of the missing Bird Stump related to what’s going on in 1888. But how? And can this be fixed?
To Say Nothing of the Dog weaves a very complicated story, with very memorable characters. I admit it took me three separate occasions to get to the hang of things, and I almost gave up. But I’m so glad I pulled through as it has become one of my all time favorite novels. It involves comedy, mystery, romance, Victorian etiquette, time travel, science and unresolved paradoxes. At times it can get confusing, but I advise the reader to bear with the novel – it’s absolutely worth it.
One of the novel’s strength is its humor. It is very hard to create a serious and believable story, and yet continue seeing the funny aspects. This is more the case when it comes to time travel stories. But the author successfully captures the ridiculous aspects of time travel and the Victorian era (and there are so many). More so, the humor feels right at home historically speaking (it’s often a comedy of manners, think “The importance of being Earnest”).
In terms of time travel, this is one of the few novels that is able to create multiple threads the reader knows must eventually be tied together, and yet do this in a satisfying – and unpredictable – manner without resorting to cheating or some pseudo-mystical solution. It’s a novel that constantly keeps you guessing.
In summary: To Say Nothing of the Dog is a very witty, very funny time travel novel. Despite being a highly ambitious novel, when one considers the number of things it’s trying to achieve, it does not disappoint for a moment. Highly recommended!
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Tags: Future, Humor, Mystery, Paradox, Past, Time Lag, Victorian Era, World War II