Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Half-Way Discussion: To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog
Marg at Reading Adventures and I read To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis, together a little while ago and had such a great discussion we decided to break it up into halves!  What follows is our discussion of the first half of the book.  Marg will post our discussion about the second half of the book on Reading Adventures on Friday, so look for it this weekend!

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a science fiction book about time travel and the havoc it can wreak on people's lives.  It confronts the issues of fate vs. free will, expounds on the deplorable Victorian tendency to do everything in excess, and cheerfully makes multiple references to literary figures ranging from Montmormency the dog to Lord Peter Wimsey.  I can't say much more than that it is a very funny and witty book and I highly recommend it.  For more details on why, see below!  Marg is in blue and I am in green.

Have you read Connie Willis before, Aarti? How did you come to read her?  I haven’t, but based on what I have read so far it won’t be my last read from this author.

I’ve never read her before, either!  I have heard multiple recommendations for The Doomsday Book, and that has been on and off my wish list many times, but maybe because it revolves around the Plague and has a title with “Doom” in it, it sounded very gloomy to me and I never really wanted to read it.  I only picked up To Say Nothing of the Dog after reading Three Men in a Boat because I thought it must be fun if it’s based on that hilarious book.  And it was!  I’ll definitely be looking into more books by WIllis.

To Say Nothing of the Dog was recommended to me a number of years ago and I am sure it was because I had enjoyed Outlander by Diana Gabaldon so much. I am sure that the theory behind the recommendation was if you like the time travel in Outlander, then you will like the time travel in TSNotD. To be honest, that is probably all that there is in common really. If I was going to suggest this book to someone I would probably be more likely to suggest it to fans of Jasper Fforde. To me, it has that kind of feel where the author takes a world that we know and then adds just a twist to bring a very different world to life.

I think you’re absolutely right.  I have only read a little bit of Outlander, the first book, but I can’t imagine its style being similar to this one.  I have also only read one Jasper Fforde book, but I think you’re right on-target with your recommendation.  Fforde also has so many literary references in his books, and if you’re a book lover, I think he’s really fun to read so that you feel kind of “in” the club.  Willis is much the same way with this book- I really enjoyed how much fun she had.  I’d also recommend the book to fans of Terry Pratchett- same kind of humor.

I was thinking about the comparison to Fforde this morning, and whilst I do stand by that recommendation, I also know that there are people out there who don’t really like Fforde that much (gasp!). I was thinking that this book is more accessible than Fforde though. I don’t think that you feel as though you are missing out on some of the fun with this book like you can sometimes feel with Fforde if you really don’t know the reference he is alluding to.

I hadn’t realized the book was published so long ago- in 1998, it looks like!  I for some reason thought it was much newer as I feel I have seen a lot of stuff on blogosphere about it in the past year or so.  I was very surprised by the publication date.  Not that the book felt dated or anything- just that I thought it was much more current.  I suppose you didn’t feel that way, as you’ve had the book recommended to you years ago?

It doesn’t feel dated at all does it? I think that part of the reason for that is that it was already set in the future. There is an inherent danger in that if you get to that point in the future and things aren’t like that at  all. If you look at the Back to the Future films or The Jetsons, for example, weren’t we all meant to driving flying cars by now?

Yes, perhaps we can do a reread of the book in 2057 and see how things hold up ;-)  Have a feeling we won’t be time-traveling by then, but I guess you never know!

I find the chapter headings in TSNotD fascinating. The author takes a few key words from the chapter and puts them at the beginning, and then you read through.  For example, here is the chapter heading from Chapter 14. (I am pretty sure that this really isn’t any spoiler because quite frankly if you can tell what is going to come next you are a better reader than I am:

A Surprise Appearance - Jeeves - In a Flower Garden - Giggling - Dress Descriptions - An Overweight Cat - Sex and Violence - Finch is Not at Liberty to Say - Tales of the Wild West - Amazing Treasures People Have in Their Attics - Home Again - I am Prepped - A Civilised game - Bad News - Croquet in Wonderland  - More Bad News 

At times I found myself trying to guess what might happen. I quickly learned that wasn’t such a good idea because Willis is excellent at throwing all sorts of twists in to storyline. I am pretty sure I have seen another author use this technique but I can’t remember who it was. Did you like this technique? 

I did!  I am not sure if you’ve read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, but that is a direct reference to his chapter headings as well.  The first time I saw a heading like that, I thought the chapter was going to be SO LONG.  But she really just references all these random asides and metaphors and it’s such fun.  The one you chose above is actually hilarious because the whole croquet game, with the allusions to Alice in Wonderland was one of my favorite scenes.  Do you have a scene in particular that stands out to you from the first half of the book?

I haven’t read Three Men in a Boat yet, but I definitely intend to read it after reading this book.

That croquet scene really stands out for me as well. You have this very prim and proper miss who suddenly turns into this ultra competitive, must win at any cost croquet player, to the point of near viciousness.

I also really enjoyed the scene where Ned and Terence and the Professor passed the Three Men in a Boat. It had a real Hot Shots! feeling to it - you know Charlie Sheen yelling “I loved you in Wall Street” at his dad Martin Sheen as their two boats passed by in the river.

Animals play quite an important role in this book. I keep on expecting Cyril (the British bulldog) to start talking any second now! 

I feel like there is a term (or there should be, if there isn’t one) for characters without speaking parts that have such a huge impact on the action and reader’s enjoyment of the story.  Cyril and Princess Arjumand are definitely two that qualify in that way!  They were just such fun, and I loved how Cyril in many ways mirrored his owner, Terence.  I also think, along with the animals, the secondary characters were great.  For example, Mr. Mering and Professor Peddick’s many discussions on random fish, Finch taking on butler duties, Lady Schrapnell (of course!) and so many others.  I think you could just tell WIllis had a lot of fun writing this book.  And I would hope authors have fun writing all their books, but I could see Willis giggling at her computer, or having a somewhat ridiculous conversation with someone and then managing to include that in her story, too.  Did you get any sense of the author through this book?

My sense of the author is that she is someone who you could sit down and have a really good laugh with. I hope that she had someone with her when she was writing some of these scenes so that she could be brainstorming with and say wouldn’t it be fantastic if such and such happens, enjoy a good laugh, and then have it end up in the book.

Yes, I hope so, too!  It sounds like the sort of story that would be fun to collaborate on.

At the halfway point of the book I am definitely at the I have to keep reading stage!



  1. I love this review format! I haven't read this book or Any of those referenced, but I want to now.

  2. This is a fun discussion! I actually read the book because you and Marg were. I have been curious about it for years, but just needed that extra push!

  3. I love Connie Willis and have read all her books. My take is that after a few you get the sense that she is really talking about miscommunication/inability to communicate clearly, and that disparity in time is a wonderful trope to convey and at the same time parody that idea. It's especially clear in Doomsday Book (my all time favorite) and Passage (about the Titantic). I also like that she does a great deal of research about the time period about which she is writing, so that you can get a very good flavor of the era as well. I would even be tempted to call her "historical fiction" rather than "science fiction."

  4. Yay! I love this book and am so glad you all did too. I've actually met Connie Willis and she's an amazing person. I love her books.

  5. Cool style :)
    Oh comparison to Fforde, i love him, he is insane

  6. You had me at 'time travel'!

  7. Love,love, love this book and need to read it again soon. I had forgotten about those hilarious chapter breakdowns as well. I have read other books by Willis, and although Doomsday book is a little bit dark, it is also very interesting, what with all the time travel and such. I have quite a few of her books on my shelf, I just haven't gotten the chance to read them all yet. I have also heard really good things about Passage, which is a slight departure in terms of her regular style. I just know you are going to end up loving the rest of this book, and also Three Men in a Boat, which is a quick and highly amusing read. I am glad also that you mentioned Princess Arjumand, because she is one of my favorite things about the book. I loved all the weirdness in this book, and had such an interesting time trying to figure out what the bishop's birdstump was! Great choice for a joint review. I am so glad that you are liking this one!

  8. Your co-review is a great enticement for those who haven't yet read this terrific novel. I, for one, probably overuse words like 'unique' and 'fresh' when it comes to bookchat, and given that it is overtly paying homage to another book perhaps it's just-plain wrong to suggest them here, but there just isn't anything else quite like TSNOTD in my reading experience. It's wonderful!

  9. I loved TSNotD and 3Men in a Boat but then I love CW and I was happy to be introduced to Jerome K Jerome. I'm glad you both are enjoing it!

    The Doomsday Book was great but then I am a time travel, plague loving sap. :)

  10. Carrie K, I love time travel, and I have really enjoyed books about the Plague, so I have high hopes for The Doomsday Book.

    Buried in Print, TSNofD was certainly an unusual read!

    Zibilee, I am definitely intending to read more from Willis.

    Care, I am a bit like that as well!

    Blodeuedd, I am a big Fforde ffan as well, so that is definitely a positive comparison to my mind!

    Amanda, Connie Willis would definitely make it onto my list of authors I would like to meet now.

    Rhapsodyinbooks, we talk a little bit about genre in the next part of the review.

    Kailana, some times we all need a little extra push.

    Kathleen, it was a really fun read!

  11. This ios on my TBR but your team review makes me want to put it at the top.

  12. I read Doomsday a while ago and am currently listening to Blackout. While I enjoy Willis's writing I would not, in any way, compare her writing style to Jasper Fforde's. Though perhaps this book is a lot different than the 1 1/2 books of hers that I've read. I'll have to give it a try.


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