To Say Nothing of the Dog is a novel by Connie Willis. The story is set in Oxford, England, about 60 years into the future, after Time Travel has not only been invented, but pretty much everyone except historians has lost interest in it. This is mainly because it turns out that you can't bring things from the past to the future, or at least, you aren't supposed to be able to. Most of the history of this period and rules of time travel are laid out in Willis' earlier novel Doomsday Book, which takes place in the same universe.In To Say Nothing of the Dog, the History Department of Balliol, Oxford University, has been thrown into chaos by the pet project of a rich donor: to rebuild a cathedral that was destroyed during World War II, exactly as it was at the moment it was bombed. Ned Henry is charged with finding out what happened to the Bishop's Bird Stump (a bird stump, incidentally, is a kind of flower vase; this particular bird stump is cast iron, and extremely Victorian), and is having some unexpected difficulty with the task. Then another historian, Verity Kindle, accidentally brings a cat from Victorian England to the present. Ned and Verity go back to Victorian England to try to sort out the problems caused by the missing cat, before history begins to change. And the bird stump is still missing. . .The novel could be this site's designated mystery; the two lead characters are extremely Genre Savvy, know their tropes, know when they encounter one, and still manage to wind up blindsided by events. Furthermore, the novel makes repeated references to Jerome K. Jerome's Victorian comic classic Three Men in a Boat; the novel takes its title from that one's subtitle.
Contrived Coincidence: Justified. Not the coincidences, the trope itself — when push comes to shove, the space-time continuum will pick causality over plausibility every time. The number of these becomes a source of humour for the reader, and terror for the protagonists — with that much coincidence in the air, the continuum must be trying to choke down something big.
Discussed Trope: Frequently. For example, on first arriving in the Victorian era, Ned (or his interior monologue, anyway) comments that, were this a book, he'd have quickly found a newspaper to let him know the date. Then, he promptly finds a newspaper. Which, it later transpires, is several days old. The page quote of Exact Eaves Dropping is another example.
Eternal English: Averted. Ned mentions near the beginning that he initially had trouble with World War II-era English while working on jumble sales during the Blitz. He manages to follow upper-class English of the 1890s easily enough (except for some of the slang) but finds lower-class and regional dialects to be almost impenetrable. Then at one point he finds himself transported to Coventry Cathedral in the 1300s and he only catches the occasional meaningful word in the locals' Middle English, represented phonetically.
Exact Eavesdropping: At the beginning of the novel, a very disoriented Ned overhears some vital information, but can't make sense of it without context, and he complains that this trope is never present in real life.
Floral Theme Naming: The Chattisbourne sisters are named Rose, Iris, Pansy, and Eglantine. Their mother even introduces them as her flower garden.
Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Not the dictator's death specifically, but the same idea that averting a tragedy leads to the Nazi victory. Background wise, in the past anyone who set out with the intention of doing Hitler in ended their time-jump at either the right place a few years out, or at the right time on the other side of the planet.
I Reject Your Reality: Lady Schrapnell in spades. Every reason the researchers can offer for her not getting her way, she rejects as a lazy excuse.
Informed Attractiveness: Ned refers to Verity as a "naiad" for a while after seeing her water-soaked and becomes enamored with her beauty. He also admits to himself that he looks very sharp in a boater hat.
Lighter and Softer: The previous "Oxford" book by Connie Willis, Doomsday Book has some of the same characters (those in charge of time travel research) but is extremely grim. This instead is much more comedic in nature.
Lord Peter Wimsey: Verity spends most of her time in the 1920s, and reads a lot of mystery novels, especially the Lord Peter Wimsey stories. She is, therefore, delighted to find out that she and Ned get to solve the Mystery of the Missing Bird Stump.
Newspaper Dating: Subverted. Historians are taught to ascertain their space-time location by looking at newspapers, but the one Ned finds turns out to be a few days old.
No Equal Opportunity Time Travel: TJ can't do drops because the nineteenth and most of the 20th century is a "10 for blacks" in terms of danger. This doesn't stop Lady Schrapnell from trying though. There's also a Pakistani net technician exempt for similar reasons.
The Oath-Breaker: Verity explains to Ned that Terence can not break the engagement; only Tossie can.
Obfuscated Interface: Only TJ can understand the cloud-like mathematical displays outputted by his simulations of the Battle of Waterloo. Justified by Ned making the comparison that doctors often tell a patient 'you see the lung, here' on similarly incomprehensible medical scans.
Once for Yes, Twice for No: In the seance scene. Since Ned and Verity are trying to make the "spirit" give totally different answers than the "spiritualists" who are the reason for the seance in the first place, Hilarity Ensues.
Rose Tinted Narrative: Indulging in sentimental monologues is one of the leading signs of time-lag. Probably another Shout-Out to Three Men in a Boat, in which Jerome now and then interrupts his satire in favor of misty meditations on history for no apparent reason.
Shaggy Dog Story (At the end of the book, it turns out that the entire bizarre adventure is possibly part of the timestream's self-correction for another paradox that will occur hundreds of years in the future.) Characters suspect that the Allies to win WWII solely to cause a cathedral to be build in Christ Church Meadow! Just exactly how big was that incongruity in 2678?
Principally, to Jerome K. Jerome's still-hilarious Victorian travelogue Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). While boating down the Thames (with two other men and a dog), Ned Henry actually recognizes the three men and dog in question as they pass him going upstream.
Baine saying "As you wish" multiple times, when ordered around by a spoiled mistress, whom he is in love with is a reference to ''The Princess Bride.
P.G. Wodehouse is mentioned and quoted several times. His plots revolved around making sure the right people get engaged and the wrong engagements are broken off, much like the plot to ensure Tossie marries Mr. C rather than Terence.
The Butler Did It: Lampshaded, Verity reads a lot of mystery novels, and explains this trope in great detail. And in the end played straight, the Butler did do it, just not the "it" anyone was expecting: he runs off with his employer's daughter.
Temporal Paradox: An unusual case. Instead of being a straight violation of causality itself, the anomaly Ned and Verity investigate is something that should have been prevented by the manmade safeties built into the time travel net which are designed to stop such things happening in the first place. It turns out that the violation was allowed in order to help correct an earlier violation, which took place BEFORE the safeties were created and the net was unregulated.
Undermined By Reality: Terence invokes several couples from literature, comparing them to the "true love" he has for Tossie. Every pairing he named (ex. Romeo and Juliet) ended badly, which seemed lost on him.
Unreliable Narrator: Ned at the beginning, when he's completely blitzed with time-lag. Only a mild form, however, since it's quickly apparent to the reader that Ned isn't thinking straight, and with a little thought can work out what's really happening.