the Little Red Reviewer

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

Posted on: March 16, 2020


To Say Nothing of the Dog came out in 1998.


We all need something happy right now.


So I’m going to spoil this book for you:


It has a happy ending.


It stars the world’s cutest doggo, and the world’s fluffliest cat.


No one dies.


Yes, this is a book in which no one dies,  comedies of manners take place, Victorian romances are not-quite thwarted by distractable chaperones,  yard sales are born, mysteries are solved by studying other mysteries, time travel happens every five minutes,  and you’ll laugh your head off.


While you can read Willis’s Oxford Time Travel books in nearly any order, since they all function as stand alones,  I’d recommend reading Doomsday Book first. It’ll give you a feel for Willis’s writing style, the rules of her time travel technology, it’ll tell you what you’re getting yourself into.  (and you have to read Blackout / All Clear as a duology, do NOT read All Clear first!)


Once you’ve finished Doomsday Book and you are done crying, you’ll be reading for something much lighter and much funnier.  It’s time for To Say Nothing of the Dog. You’ve earned it.


In the future, Lady Shrapnell refuses to take no for an answer.  She commandeers the time travel lab at Oxford to send hapless historians anywhen she pleases, so that her restoration of Coventry Cathedral can be perfect.


You can’t bring artifacts forward in time with you, but you can steal them away from a cathedral that is about to be bombed in the 1940 Blitz, hide them somewhere safe, and then 200 years later just happen to locate them in some granny’s attic. The one item the historians can’t seem to find is the Bishop’s bird stump.  What is a bird stump? Doesn’t matter, it’s just a Macguffin, and a cause for comedy as time travellers to say “The Bishop’s Bird Stump” ten times fast while trying to figure out what happened to it and why anyone would want to make something so hideous.


The only way to protect the time lagged historians from Lady Shrapnell’s wrath is to get them as far away from her as possible –  maybe a few hundred years away from her.

Historian Ned Henry is sent to Victorian England, mostly to get away from Lady Shrapnell, but also to track down fellow time traveler Verity Kindle.  They find each other. They also find Lady Shrapnell’s many times great grandmother, and an entire household of overly privileged people who refuse to take no for answer.


Cue the comedy of manners, and the comedy of errors.


Everything about this book is cute and happy and calming.  Ned and Verity think the stakes are so very high, but as the reader, we know they kind of aren’t.


I could tell you all about the plot, and the characters, but really? They’re all a giant macguffin.  You’ll meet Ned and Verity, and Tossie and Terence, and you’ll adore Cyril, and you’ll meet Princess Arjumand and Baine and Professor Peddick, and they’ll entertain you on every page. It doesn’t matter if it takes you a while to warm up to Baine, he’s used to that.


Read this and be entertained.


If you need some escapism right now,  To Say Nothing of the Dog (and franky, anything by Connie Willis) is a good bet.  And like the best time travel books, you’ll want to look up all the cool stuff in this book, to learn more about it.  I love it when time travel books, and historical fiction books, make me want to read non-fiction!


The last 70 pages or so,  that’s the serious stuff. That’s when you realize that time travel actually does have rules that will be abided by.  Willis opens some massive doors here, doors that Ned and Verity aren’t knowledgeable enough to understand. They understand what might be happening, but have no idea why.   The stakes were higher than you thought, but still, everything works out just fine in the end.


Because none of us know what the future may bring.  All we know is that one day, we will be part of the past.

9 Responses to "To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis"

Ah! The perfect review of the perfect book for our times.

Liked by 1 person

i feel shitty recommending that people read Doomsday Book first. that book is suddenly the worst book for our times.



Such a good call! And now I want to dig this out and read it again … and I am between books right now … soooo … *looks at watch* … I got time … *scampers off in direction To Say Nothing of the Dog was last seen* 😀

Liked by 1 person

did you find it????

inquiring minds need to know!


Yes, I found it! Am about half way through now. 🙂

Liked by 1 person

Love this one so much. If I had a desert island list, it would be on it.

Liked by 1 person

I’d want everything Willis ever wrote to be on a desert island with me. I went to her Wikipedia page, and holy crap, so much by her that i haven’t read yet!


Fantastic review! This is one that has been in my TBR for far too long, I really need to make time for it soon.

Liked by 1 person

yes yes yes! read it soon! it is so good, and so cute, and just everything is happy in this book!

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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