Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

June 27, 2009

Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog

Filed under: review,sf — Tags: , , , , — Sam @ 11:30 pm

If the proposition had been put to me, prior to reading this novel, that it was even remotely possible for a text to be at one and the same time a time travel caper, a 1930s detective story, a deconstruction of the Country House Novel, and an extended meditation on modelling chaotic systems and the cosmological significance of jumble sales, I would (I freely admit) have been dubious.

There are so very many things I would like to say about this book, but it will take another half-dozen readings at least for me to understand it properly. That is, however, a chore I will undertake with equanimity.

Normally, I would encourage all of you to read this book immediately; however, that would be wrong of me. You must, if you have not already, read Three Men in a Boat (though The Wind in the Willows will do at a pinch), The Complete Jeeves and Wooster, By His Bootstraps, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, William the Conqueror, and at the very least The Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night. Then you must read this book.

I was a little disappointed when I worked out one of the central mysteries long before the protagonists did; but then again, it was (in retrospect) inevitable, and I suspect Willis would have been disappointed if a genre-aware reader hadn’t been expecting that.

The book is gentle, witty, poignant, and more than occasionally side-splittingly hilarious. It runs on cheerfully, like the ever-flowing stream which forms such an eminently Victorian metaphor for time, but – like the stream – there are all sorts of interesting eddies and crosslinks inside the flow. Nothing is insignificant, the story tells us. Nothing gets ignored or passed over; not bulldogs, Oxford Dons, kittens, spinster ladies, or the most egregiously hideous Victorian decorative ware. All Nature is but Art.


  1. I’m so glad you’ve read this, I love this book! Mainly because it’s one of the best comedies of manners I know, and is so utterly delightful in so many ways. The only books on that list I’d read in advance were Three Men in a Boat and much P.G. Wodehouse, though I’ve since read a fair bit of Dorothy L. Sayers. Tell me about the others next time I run into you on MSN.

    Comment by Elettaria — June 28, 2009 @ 9:31 am

  2. I’m pleased to hear you’ve read it – I was thinking as I went along that this was very much an Elettaria kind of book.

    Comment by Sam — June 28, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

  3. [...] your S stands for. F is for fiction, mostly.) Arcadia makes a more or less perfect pair with To Say Nothing of the Dog, and a really interesting match with Stephenson’s Baroque [...]

    Pingback by Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood » Blog Archive » Et in Arcadia Ego — August 17, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  4. [...] Cold Iron and Rowan-Wood [...]

    Pingback by To Say Nothing of the Dog / Connie Willis – Rat's Reading — September 17, 2009 @ 5:50 am

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