My ex used to carry a copy of Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog around almost constantly. His copy was dog-eared and worn, yet he’d faithfully re-read it, annually. For perhaps that reason, like I felt that I’d be trespassing on his devotion, I didn’t read the book until now.
What I found was a novel of comic misadventure and wonderful misdirection as two time travelers stumble about the Victorian era, trying to find a hideous piece of sculpture whose whereabouts are responsible for a possible melting of the continuum. No pressure. And yet, the contemporary Victorian characters, completely oblivious to the situation, thwart the travelers through all their eccentric meandering.
The book satisfied, particularly at the denouement. Pets, who I think don’t get enough presence in fiction, are a large part of it all. Mysteries compound and resolve. As much as I enjoyed the story, I didn’t love the book. I can analyze it to death: the tension took a bit too long. I was never as caught up in the circumstances as I wanted to be. Willis’ characters are clever. The end really wrapped it all up nicely. I think this is what agents mean when they reject a manuscript with the confusing statement “I just didn’t fall in love.”
To Say Nothing of the Dog is a good book, one I’m glad I finally read. Yet it definitely didn’t inspire in me the devotion it does in Brian. Conversely, I know that trying to explain my love of Gail Carriger or Margaret Atwood and convince people to read their books doesn’t always go very well.
What drives us to fall in love with a book? What makes a book so important to one person but completely passable to another? I don’t think there’s a good answer, which is what makes that agent response so frustrating to the aspiring author. It’s as an ineffable quality as what makes us love a person. Sometimes, to the outside observer, it’s something only we can see.