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TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG
By Connie Willis
Bantam, 1998, 493 pp. $6.50
Reviewed by J. Ashley (3/2000)
For something refreshing and different, pick up TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG. What other book bases the fate of the universe and everyone in it on a lost cat?
Ned Henry, an historian from the late 21st century, is recruited to return a cat to the Victorian era. The cat had inadvertently been removed from the time stream by Ned's beautiful colleague, Verity Kindle, herself an expert on 1930s mystery novels. Ned welcomes the change in assignment from canvassing jumble sales in 1940 for a piece of art from Coventry cathedral. He is also ordered to remain in the Victorian era and get some rest, as his excessive travel to the past has given him a bad case of time-lag (symptoms include disorientation; a tendency to quote poetry; and Difficulty in Distinguishing Sounds).
Ned arrives in the 1880s in time to run into a young man who announces he's boating down the Thames to the very place Ned must return the cat. Ned accompanies him and the bulldog, Cyril, and Ned's adventures begin.
Ned's time-lag confusion has caused him to believe the cat already returned for him, and thus begins the Mystery of the Lost Cat. That follows closely behind the Mystery of the Nearly Drowned Professor and precedes the Mystery of the Mysterious Butler, the Mystery of the Disappearing Goldfish, and the Mystery of the Unreadable Diary.
Amid Victorian occultism and yet another jumble sale, Ned desperately tries to find the cat and restore her to her time stream and pair off the lovers in the tale the way history dictates. At the same time, he falls in love with Verity, who is posing as the cousin to the cat's rightful owner. Playing Lord Peter and Harriet, Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple, Ned and Verity race to restore the continuum, but each failure causes further disruption of the time-net until the very fabric breaks down and the chaos of the system begins to take over.
This book is hilarious, marvelously written, thoughtful, and fun. Willis's characterization and delivery make this a suspense/thriller of a decidedly different turn. Time travel is not my favorite genre, but this book stands time travel on its ear and throws in classic mystery, Jeeves and Wooster, and a little bit of Alice in Wonderland.
Highly recommended. It's going on my keeper shelf.
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