Review: TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis

31Mar10


Title: To Say Nothing of the Dog
Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Turtleback
Year published: 1999

Recommended: I lot of people adore this book with good reason. I’d suggest starting elsewhere with Willis; the books I’ve read by her are Bellwether (comedic, but tighter) and Passage (not so tight, more serious). Once you’re a devotee, and know whether you like her humor, pick this one up. And be prepared for a slow start.

First off, long silence due to finals, work, travel, other boring excuses. Onward. Short review, not much to say, been a few weeks since I read it.

I’ve tried to read this book a total of four times. The first three I got about thirty to fifty pages in before becoming frustrated and setting it aside (each time, intending to pick it back up). It finally ended up under my bathroom sink, languishing in solitude, until it came up as Calico Reaction’s book club selection. I decided to give it 100 pages this time.

And those 100 pages were a slog, I must admit. The character was confused, I was more confused, and the book seemed like a string of unconnected anecdotes and bizarre happenings. Luckily, on about page 96, Verity shows up. And she brings the plot with her.

I’ve read two of Connie Willis’ books previously, and if I hadn’t adored both of them I think I never would have finished this book. I’m glad I did. With the appearance of Verity and a sense of purpose and direction (still muddled, but now in an amusing, serves-the-story sort of way) I sank right into the voice and the madcap Victorian adventuring. I admit I still have very little idea of what happened to the bird stump and why, but by the end of the book I cared very little about the damn thing and its place in the story, and was far more concerned with the various romantic pairings history (and narrative) demanded, but I’m just a GIRL that way. In any case, I’m so woefully sloppy as a reader that if I figure things out ahead of time it’s a fair bet the mystery was incredibly obvious, so I’m generally used to being befuddled right up until the end. Willis explained things well enough at the conclusion to at least give me the illusion of understanding what the hell had been going on for four hundred or so pages, so I was satisfied.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike Calico Reaction, I love the Victorian era, which perhaps explains MY ambivalence about steampunk (I’m picky; also, I see way too much of it). I love the strict social code and all the ways it was exploited, contorted, and ignored to suit the situation. Part of this is my fascination with “social vocabulary,” which is a topic I won’t get into now. Anyhow, I’m not normally one for comedic books, but with the addition of a destination and trajectory this was right up my alley, and I do adore dogs and cats, so there’s that.

But really, and I don’t mean to harp on the same thing over and over, there’s no excuse for those first hundred pages. Unless you absolutely adore the wandering, purposeless humor from the start, and are willing to put up with utter confusion, they’re very difficult to get through. If I hadn’t known and trusted the author I would have abandoned it a fourth time, and that would have been a shame.

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