It’s quite hard to define the genre of this book. It’s an English Victorian-era drawing room comedy with some 21st century historians who time-travel in and out. There’s quite a few jumble sales involved, as well as a lot of time lag, some Agatha Christie-style mystery, some history, some romance, of course some science, three men in a boat, and a dog.
It sounds complex, and it is, but in a fun way. Here’s the basic plot. In the mid-twenty-first century, a strong-willed rich woman is determined to rebuild Coventry Cathedral in Oxford, exactly as it was before it was destroyed in the air raids in WWII. She has commandeered all the historians in Oxford to travel back in time to find out every single detail, which means they make so many trips that they’re extremely time-lagged. This mea
ns they’re extremely sentimental and have difficulty distinguishing sounds, among other symptoms.
Ned Henry is so time-lagged that he needs a two-week rest, so his professor sends him back to the Victorian era to rest up, just asking him to run one errand first, just something little (it has to do with repairing the space-time continuum). The problem is that Ned is so time-lagged he misses his instructions, and in the adventures that follows he never does get much rest….
This book is hilarious. If you never venture into the science fiction/fantasy section for any other reason, you should venture in for this book—there’s much more to it than science fiction. It may not be high literature, but it’s treading the borders in a very satisfactory manner. Oh, and it will make you want to read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men on a Boat—the Victorian travel comedy on which it’s very loosely based (there’s no time travel in that one, but there are three men in a boat and a dog).
If you’re interested in Connie Willis, check out my review of the Dooms Day Book, another 21st-century historian time travel novel.