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.
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.
For Want of a Nail: Small items, like cats, can have huge impacts on history. At one point, when ruminating on just how much trouble he's in, Ned quotes the Trope Namer poem directly.
Genre Savvy: Verity reads a lot of Victorian mysteries, so when they find themselves with a mystery to solve in the Victorian era...
Glurge Addict: The entire Victorian era, pretty much. Tossie especially.
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.
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.
Mind Screw: The way so many elements come together towards the end to point to a totally unexpected (though thoroughly justified) conclusion feels like a cross between this and a Shocking Swerve.
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.
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.)
Combined with the in-story Wild Mass Guessing at the end of Blackout, it appears possible that the timestream has caused, via an absurd level of coincidences and time travel, 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?
Shout-Out: Principally, though far from exclusively, 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.
The Real Life boat trip on which Jerome based his book didn't actually have a dog, which leads to several possibilities — mistaken identity (Henry's thoughts become unreliable under the mounting stress of time travel), alternate timeline, or just one of Jerome's other boat trips. Or Jerome was lying in order to take credit for coming up with the idea later.
Also, Baine saying "as you wish" multiple times, when ordered around by a spoiled mistress, whom he is in love with.
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.
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.