26 January 2013

To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
1999 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Public Library
434 Pages

To Say Nothing of the Dog introduces us to a new team of “historians”.  Ned Henry is badly time-lagged.  Verity Kindle has made a serious mistake.  Lady Schrapnell will stop at nothing.  Princess Arjumand is not impressed.  The Coventry Cathedral’s bird stump has gone missing.  And I’m still laughing about the Jumble Sales.

Irreverent referents
There are few things that speak more directly to my lizard brain than goofy, stupid, irreverence or absurd referential comedy and To Say Nothing of the Dog was pretty much 434 pages of lizard brain goodness.  At the core of my being there is a little dolt sitting on a couch giggling at this kind of thing all day.

In my review of Doomsday Book, I mentioned that Willis was onto something good in the Dunworthy/influenza madcap narratives.  In To Say Nothing of the Dog, she takes that theme further and masters the running joke, the bumbling slapstick, the bumbling historians, the cat humor (“Cats, as you know, are quite impervious to threats”)...the swan humor.

The tipping point for me is Willis’ balance between a kind of subtle, unfolding, quiet farce and blatant canoe-tipping, mid-night pet sneaking, multiple-imposter-séance holding absurdity.  This is to say that I love that it was all happening at the very same time.  It had almost had a Shakespearean air – as a kind of Much Ado about Nothing type of screwball comedy of errors (oh that’s another one too).

And I think this is a bit more coherent than Doomsday Book.  Though I appreciated that the lightness broke up the intense tragedy of Kivrin’s tale, it gave it a little of that two-books-smashed-together feel.  To Say Nothing of the Dog loses the tragedy and relentless death, but it doesn't lose the core of deeper human insight that allows the book to transcend the purposefully, delightfully screwy romp.

Don’t get me wrong, I still loved them both.  I’ll still re-read them both.  But of the two, To Say Nothing of the Dog felt a little more polished (even if it’s not as emotionally gripping).

Did I mention that swans have now vaulted to my list of funniest animals?

You would expect me to talk about the net or historical accuracy and I should – this isn’t just silliness, To Say Nothing of the Dog is built on the same conceptual foundation that I loved in Doomsday Book – but I’m not going to.  Well, hey…there’s a lot more I could and should say about Willis’ second Hugo winner but you know if you’re not in it for the funny, then you probably shouldn't be there.

I have been trying to write this review for weeks now – staring at the screen, blank Word document open.  I've taken breaks for food/sleep/work, but other than that, I've mostly just been sitting here trying to think of something to write.

It’s not actually so much that I can’t think of what to write, I could go on and on.  The problem is really that I don’t want to write it.  I feel I've had one of those intensely personal experiences with a book and I just want to keep it to myself.  If I talk about it, I have to admit it’s a book and I can’t live in it anymore.  I want it to be mine and I don’t want to share.

Don’t read this book.


Universe 5/5
Social/Political Climate 4/5
Dialogue 5/5
Scientific Wonders 4/5
Characters 5/5

Overall 23/25

Though I’ve a few more reviews from the 90’s, I’m actually reading into the 2000’s.  I’ve already finished The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  This coming week, I’ll be working on Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer and finishing The Yiddish Policeman’s Union soon on audiobook.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, you're on to Hominids. Looking forward to your views on it.


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