Book Review: Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last

Posted January 26, 2014 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last

To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last

in Paperback edition on December 1, 1998 and has 493 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon., Barnes & NobleKobo.

Second in the Oxford Time Travel science fiction series and revolving around the time travel department at Oxford University. The couple focus is on Ned Henry and Kindle.

It has received the 1998 ALA Alex Award, the 1999 Hugh Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, the 2001 Prix Bob Morane for roman traduit, and the 2002 Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis for Foreign Novel.

My Take

This one is a complete opposite from Willis’ The Doomsday Book, 1, and it’s Keystone Kops as everyone’s rushing to avoid Lady Schrapnell and fix a possible incongruity as the day of consecration counts down. It’s her money they all have an eye on, yet that “God is in the details” is bedeviling everyone! I have to wonder if the Time Travel group is wondering if Lady S’s money is worth it!

While the silly rushing about drove me a bit nuts, Willis does beautiful work tying everything together from cats to incongruities and yanking us about with the twists. The main thrust is the standard time travel conundrum: can one bring things forward without disrupting the future.

As for the silly bits, Willis does at least explain some of the more confusing snippets, including Ned’s traveling to the Victorian era to escape Lady S.

Whoa. Cats have been extinct for 40 years!

Oh, lord, there’s the funniest bit about various Oxford dons and their odd habits; Willis includes a bit from a pre-Wodehouse story by Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat. I’ll hafta track this one down!

Poor Ned is suffering from time slippage, and Willis has written his thoughts very well to reflect this. Even his reflections are a muddle of fun. Debates on weather or character affecting turns in history. A madcap race that meanders down the Thames with one man’s pursuit of beauty, another’s intent in preventing Mafeking while yet another hankers for the perfect fish, and messages are misread or ignored.

It all ties in with the professors’ arguments over Grand Design vs. Accident or Random Chance, the early mystery novels from Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers who had the butler do it, which segued into the narrator, the harmless old lady, the vicar’s wife, etc. with the starring roles held by Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vale with some help from Hercule Poirot, Jeeves, Bunter, and the Admirable Crichton.

Oh, lordy, the experiment in this one has me all excited about the next in the series, and a sighing wish on my part that it could really happen: “the library at Lisbon, … the library at Alexandria…”

The Story

It’s a hunt for the bishop’s bird stump that takes them back to Victorian days, for Lady Schrapnell is obsessed with rebuilding Coventry Cathedral and appropriating everything and anything to get it done.

Incongruities, self-correction, sentience.

The Characters

Ned Henry, one of the historians who is being run ragged by Lady Schrapnell buying penwipers and other bits and bobs at jumble sales, falls in love with a naiad named Kindle, one of Dunworthy’s best historians. Too bad she’s ruined after six months with Lady Schrapnell. I’m a bit disappointed Kivrin didn’t get involved. Penwiper is one of the first to restock the species.

Everyone is co-opted by Lady Schrapnell
“Commander” Carruthers is playing a post fire officer; Miss Peggy Warder is a stressed-out time tech. Mr. Jim Dunworthy is one of the history dons; Finch is still his secretary, AND he becomes more rounded as a character. Considering his efficiency, I’m not surprised about his success in Victorian England! Arnold P. Lassiter is the the new head of history faculty. Mr. Chiswick is the head of Time Travel. T.J. Lewis is third in charge. Badri Chaudhuri got co-opted to keep Lady Schrapnell out of the way. Shoji Fujisaki is one of the techs and believes that incongruities are possible.

Lady Schrapnell is an immovable object. Unfortunately, she’s also extremely rich and will leave her money to the college. IF they help her.

Mrs. Elizabeth Bittner is the widow of the last bishop of Coventry Cathedral. A cathedral he loved very much.

In Victorian England
Auntie is annoyed; Maud is the niece. Terence St. Trewes is late to the station and desperately needs money; Cyril is his bulldog. Jabez rents the boats. Mr. and Mrs. Chattisbourne and their daughters—Rose, Eglantine, Pansy, and Iris—add more comic relief. Their son, Elliott, is in South Africa. Reverend Mr. Arbitage.

Professor Peddick is St. Trewes’ tutor with the antique relatives. Delphinium Sharpe and the Reverend Mr. Doult at Coventry Cathedral.

Tossie Mering is the cloying beauty (and Lady Schrapnell’s great-great-great-great grandmother) with whom St. Trewes has fallen in love; Princess Arjumand is her precious pussy. Colonel Mesiel Mering is her father, and he collects fish. Malvinia Mering is her ghost-obsessed mother. Miss Verity Brown is Tossie’s cousin, a.k.a., Kindle! Baine is the butler they’ve co-opted into driving the landau.

Madame Iritosky is the medium. Count de Vecchio. William Patrick Callahan is the unexpected pivot.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a jumble of legs, buildings, stairs?, and papers. I’ll guess this combination collage and metaphor is pages from Tossie’s journal while Cyril is looking into the river along with someone?? Kindle perhaps? I’ll guess that the young man in profile is Ned.

I suspect the title To Say Nothing of the Dog refers to Cyril as it opens eyes, but it’s the subtitle, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last is what all the fuss is about.