To say nothing of the dog! This book kind of broke my brain, on account of it’s about time travel and there is nothing simple about time travel and to make it worse Connie Willis invents a time travel science and when you actually try to explain time travel you are going to make brains explode.
But what I love about this book, and part of why I’m going to go find some more Connie Willis books and read them ASAP, is that the time travel totally breaks the brains of the people doing the time travelling. In multiple ways! First, they don’t really understand it any better than I do, and second… oh, second.
“It’s no wonder they call you man’s best friend. Faithful and loyal and true, you share in our sorrows and rejoice with us in our triumphs, the truest friend we ever have known, a better friend than we deserve. You have thrown in your lot with us, through thick and thin, on battlefield and hearthrug, refusing to leave your master even when death and destruction lie all around. Ah, noble dog, you are the furry mirror in which we see our better selves reflected, man as he could be, unstained by war or ambition, unspoilt by—”
And then the protagonist gets time travelled, but the point of it is that this whole soliloquy is part of the “maudlin sentimentality” that comes with time-lag, which encompasses many amusing (to the reader) symptoms and is a result of too much time travel. Willis writes these passages with obvious delight, and I can’t help but love them.
The plot of the book is… simple… Ned Henry, our protagonist, is charged with finding this weird statue thing called the bishop’s bird stump, which is apparently very ugly but which is required by a beast of a woman, Lady Schrapnell, to complete the rebuilding in 20… something… sometime in the mid-21st century… of a cathedral that burned down in 1940. Anyway, the vagaries of time travel mean that Henry and others can’t get anywhere near the cathedral at the right time, and so they can’t find this thing, but Lady Schrapnell is very persuasive and keeps sending Henry back in time until he gets totally time-lagged. The only cure is rest, which he can’t get in the present time with Lady Schrapnell all a-crazy, and so he gets sent to the late 1800s instead to help return a cat that got mistakenly time-travelled when it should perhaps have been drowned. Then things start to get crazy.
I enjoyed the heck out of this book, which also features 1930s mystery novels, jumble sales, séances, crazy university professors, and many allusions to the book Three Men in a Boat which I must go read immediately, because it’s got to be pretty awesome if it inspired this.
Recommendation: For those who enjoy being totally confused and bewildered.