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.

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