Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Club Read: "To Say Nothing of the Dog"

Our foray into science fiction was of dubious success. Two members were absent from our monthly meeting and only two of us in attendance had actually read the book.

Both of us who completed To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis enjoyed the novel. A couple of months ago I read Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog in preparation for Ms. Willis' book. Although not necessary, it did contribute to the enjoyment of the Willis novel.

The science fiction aspect of To Say Nothing of the Dog is time travel, something Ms. Willis has applied in others of her books (most recently Blackout and All Clear). The majority of the story occurs during 1888 in the same general setting as Jerome's earlier novel. The book does suffer from the inevitable "information dump" common to all science fiction and fantasy. However, once the story gets rolling it has all the fumbles and bumbles of a Shakespearean comedy of errors. Ms. Willis captures the spirit of Oscar Wilde with laugh-out-loud episodes.

Yes, there is a dog. And a cat with a taste for expensive koi. And mismatched couples that must be righted before the end of the book. To say nothing of the missing "Bishop's Bird Stump" that serves at the macguffin for the novel.

Our discussion of the book consisted mainly of describing it to those who hadn't yet read it. But we did consider how minor situations or actions have affected major historical events. The contributions of muddy roads and an illegible note on Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo were a repeated topic throughout the book. The misplacement of a cat was the impetus for the events in To Say Nothing of the Dog.

The customs and mores of past periods was another topic of interest. The main character of the book had an inadequate period briefing before dropping into Victorian England, which made for anachronistic complications.

Then there are the tools from previous times that are no longer in use and rendered unrecognizable to subsequent generations. The search for a can opener and how to use it once located made for an amusing scene. Antique stores are full of items once necessary for daily life that have become collectible oddities.

Willis deftly handles the "grandfather conundrum" (you know, what if you travel back in time and inadvertently kill your will you be born?) by creating the "continuum" that self corrects the errors made by well intentioned Oxford historians of the future who study past eras first hand.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is science fiction light. An excellent introduction to the genre for newcomers. Anyone who enjoys a rollicking comedy of manners will find it a fun read aside from the sf aspects. It is also a lead in to Blackout and All Clear, set during the London blitz of World War II.

Our next reading selection is Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer.

1 comment:

NancyDe said...

One of my favorite authors!