Recent listening: To Say Nothing of the Dog

I finished listening to Connie Willis’ TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG on the way to Indy. Wow, that was one long book. I wouldn’t say it seemed unnecessarily long or anything, but yeah, definitely a doorstopper.

Did anybody read BLACKOUT / ALL CLEAR? Because it’s really startling how different that story is from TO SAY NOTHING. The latter is very definitely a comedy; of course the former is not a comedy at all, but a suspense / war novel. With time travel, of course. Plus, TO SAY NOTHING actually worked well as an audiobook because there is only one real plotline and only one protagonist, so it’s easy to keep track of even if you take long breaks between listening sessions. That would definitely not have been the case for B / AC, which had an awful lot going on.

If you’ve read B / AC, then you’re aware that it just doesn’t matter how screwed up everything seems to be, everything will actually unfold exactly as it should and the historical continuum will be fine. But I think that’s supposed to be quite clear to the reader in TO SAY NOTHING, much more so than in B / AC, where I think the reader is supposed to be worried — though in fact I assumed things would work out in both books. As of course they do, hope you don’t mind the spoiler.

Okay, if you love Wodehouse, you will almost certainly enjoy TO SAY NOTHING. It’s really well put together, complete with couples that get engaged when they clearly shouldn’t, and couples that are rather slow off the mark when they are plainly meant for each other, and crazy family members, and Highly Competent Butlers holding everything together.

There are indeed a lot of explicit references to THREE MEN IN A BOAT by Jerome, also to murder mysteries — especially Agatha Christie (I missed those) and Dorothy Sayers (those I got). So you might indeed want to do some preliminary reading. Especially because the Lord Peter Whimsy books are really good — at least the ones after Lord Peter meets Harriet Vane.

Okay, and if you have read To SAY NOTHING,I would like to know when you figured out who Mr C is? I figured it out about halfway through, but then I’m dead sure the reader is supposed to find it obvious about three-quarters of the way through. I also saw the thing with the kittens coming a mile away, but I admit I did not figure out where the Bishop’s Birdstump was until the big reveal.

The descriptions of the Bishop’s Birdstump are priceless, btw. We never step back and have it actually described, that wouldn’t work nearly as well. It’s just revealed in dialogue, as in: “Are those . . . camels?” “Seahorses, I think, with Neptune. The camels are over on this side, next to Aphrodite rising from the sea on a clamshell.”

I made that up, I don’t remember what all is on the Bishop’s Birdstump.

So, yeah, read this one for the Bishop’s Birdstump. And yes, I did like the dog.

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5 thoughts on “Recent listening: To Say Nothing of the Dog”

  1. I myself think that one of the interesting facets of this series is the way Willis seems to skip around genres, unified only by a central conceit and a certain thematic consistency. TSNOTD is a lovely comedy of manners, with a few deeper parts (can’t read the bits about Coventry without crying), DOOMSDAY BOOK is pure tragedy (I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to re-read it), and B/AC is war, spies, etc. It’s a bit weird, but it actually works remarkably well. I read TSNOTD when I want to be diverted, and B/AC when I want to be moved. I suppose I would read DOOMSDAY BOOK if I wanted to sob uncontrollably, but that hasn’t happened yet.

    I was just talking with another friend on Twitter about the Lord Peter books and the fact that nearly everyone, including Sayers herself, notes that they improve immensely after Harriet arrives–even the ones she barely appears in. Very strange, but also lovely, since she’s grown to be one of my favorite characters of all time. Tori was very relieved to find out that it wasn’t just her!

  2. I feel like I should reread “To Say Nothing of the Dog” now — I read it ages ago, immediately after I read the “Doomsday Book.” I loved “Black Out” and “All Clear” as well (I literally read them over two days because I couldn’t put them down… Except for when I finished the first and had to rush to the library to get the second). I had a bit of extra tension for the latter books because it was so firmly laid out in the first books that time couldn’t be changed and here it seemed as if… Maybe? And that would lead to all kinds of repercussions.

    I’ve only read one of the Lord Peter books, so I definitely missed those references… Agatha Christie I was able to get. (I was addicted to her novels when I was young, but eventually tired of Poirot… I still loved the other detectives, though).

    I agree that “the Doomsday Book” is really sad, but I actually also find a weird kind of hope in how it all turns out. The things we do really matter even if we can’t do everything we hope, I guess.

  3. I’m a huge Connie Willis fan and I love DOOMSDAY BOOK, BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR and TO SAY NOTHING, as well as LINCOLN’S DREAMS and BELLWETHER. Willis is one of the few authors I know who can write comedy and tragedy equally well. Even DOOMSDAY BOOK has some laugh out loud moments despite being such a tragic story overall.

  4. I don’t think I’ll be dashing out to read DOOMSDAY BOOK — even if it’s great, it sounds pretty grim. It’s so interesting she took books set in the same world in such different directions! I would never have thought of doing anything like that. Cheryl, I loved BELLWETHER, too. I only read it pretty recently and immediately started shoving at people.

  5. The medieval part of DOOMSDAY BOOK is solemn and sad, but it’s good reading. As someone said above the efforts aren’t wasted, even though things turn out as they do. It’s the rest of the book that turned me off Willis. I gather it was supposed to be funny, and it came across as needlessly stupid and way too long to me.

    She’s a good writer, and I still love LINCOLN DREAMS, but I’ve not read anything later than DB, other than the occasional short story because it left me with a feeling comparable to dealing with a sleazy used car dealer. (Spielberg movies give me that feeling too, so she’s in big name company.) I think she’s better at shorter lengths.

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