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Ahh, time travel, that really would be living the dream. I get the feeling Connie Willis was thinking that when the idea for To Say Nothing of the Dog came into her mind. I bet she had been reading Three Men in a Boat and thought it not enough, she wanted to go there, feel the sun on her face and the spray of a wet dog’s fur.

The book opens with Ned Henry and his fellow time travelers following the orders of a bossy matriarch of conservation, Lady Schrapnell, who sends historians back in time to jumble sales and sites of interest to collect data, to enable her to build reconstructions in the future. One woman is sent to measure organ pipes in ancient churches, which I think sounds like a lovely mission. In this particular case, she wants to build a perfect replica of the original Coventry Cathedral, pre-WWII bombing, so sends a team to collect information, specifically about a Bishop’s Bird Stump (a tree stump-shaped vase).

 

I love that after time travel is discovered, and when it is shown to be impossible to bring back valuables or influence history in a profitable way, all the big money in the world loses interest, and it becomes about history, culture and art. However, if people jump through time too much, they begin to lose their bearings, become poetic, maudlin, and confused. Ned is suffering from such conditions, and so is sent on an easy mission to 1888 (the year before Jerome’s book was published), dressed in white flannels and a straw boater, and told to relax on the Thames for a couple of weeks to convalesce, and also to do something he didn’t quite hear properly before hurtling through time. He soon meets up with a foppish student and his dog, and yep, they hire a boat.

I loved this book because I wanted it to be true! There are so many books I’d love to visit in real life. Some I’d like to be more of a safari park experience, to stay in the safety of a carriage as I pass by the thankfully post-revolutionary but still rebellious world of Les Misérables , or Victorian east end London where Bill Sykes could come round a corner, but others I’d want a couple of interactive weeks at least. To St Petersburg to experience the social whirl for the Peace part of War and Peace. A month or two with the Mortmains in I Capture the Castle. And Wodehouse! So many Wodehouses I’d like to transplant myself into.

The list is endless, tell me where you’d like to visit, or live forever! Right now we could all do with dreams that don’t feature the risk wars involving China and North Korea, or scrapping with Spain over Gibraltar.

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