To Say Nothing of the Dog, Or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump At Last by Connie Willis, narrated by Steven Crossley. (An affordable version is available for sale at Audible.)
Obligatory note: We’ve been down baby down over here at HU for a little bit, so I’m running a review of a book rather than a comic, for technical reasons. Apologies! I hope everyone enjoys reading this instead, and I’ll be returning to visual storytelling comicness forthwith.
This is not a comic. I admit this upfront. It is, however, one of the most interesting and fun things I’ve read in a long time. I say read, but that’s not true either. I listened to it, in fact, via my Audible account.
This is the story of Ned Henry, a historian at Oxford in the future, who is trying to find the Bishop’s Bird Stump, an ugly vase, in order to complete the details of the restoration of Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed in the Blitz. Lady Shrapnell, a very powerful and wealthy woman, has dragooned Ned Henry into searching for the Bishop’s Bird Stump as part of this restoration and he has spent most of his recent weeks visiting jumble sales and church fetes.
While searching for the Bishop’s Bird Stump in the smoking Cathedral ruins, Ned becomes time-lagged, an illness which causes difficulty hearing, mental confusion, and mawkish sentimentality.
You see, historians in 2057 can travel to the past to investigate history if they follow certain rules. They must travel in clothes that fit into the time period. They must travel using the Net, a time machine, with certain co-ordinates and computer settings. They must not meet themselves, or interfere with history, or take anything back with them to the present, lest it interfere with the space time continuum and cause an incongruity. A parachronistic incongruity, in fact.
Well, Ned’s yanked back to Oxford of 2057 for being addled and sentimental and the nurse who examines him decides that what he needs is two weeks bedrest. Which will be impossible to get with Lady Shrapnell breathing down his neck. So Mr. Dunworthy, Ned’s superior, sends him to the Victorian era to recover.
And do a simple little job.
Which Ned can’t remember because of the time-lag. He also can’t understand what people are saying, but that’s partly because people in Victorian England can be quite confusing. The reader isn’t sure what Ned is supposed to do either. So here Ned is, on Oxford Railway station in Victorian England in June, outfitted in a boating blazer and a handlebar mustache, with the fate of the world depending on him.
He ends up sailing down the river with an Oxford Don who quotes Herodotus, a lovesick undergraduate who quotes Tennyson, and a bulldog.
The interesting bit, besides the river boating and the bulldog and the great writing, is that this quiet gentle story is a combination of period mystery, romance, and the exploration of chaos theory, personal responsibility, the causes of history, and physics. And it does this with church jumble sales, spoiled cats, Victorian sprirtualism, tea drinking, croquet, and well, bulldogs.
There are no explosions, unless you count a brief scene during the Blitz, no real violence, and a lot of quiet country scenes. It might sound boring, but it’s lively and interesting and fun. The nature of history and causation are explored–when are events or actions significant? How do people affect history? Is it natural forces and populations or is it character that shapes events? Which actions are significant? Who is the important person? And which is the important date–and can we tell that from inside the event?
That sounds very dry, but it’s told very much through travel on a boat down the Thames, an old fashioned Victorian spirtualism table-turning seance, sight seeing of church architecture, and other delightful scenes. I enjoyed it very much. Highly recommended.