Book review: I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, by Connie Willis

4 05 2018

Connie Willis is an American SF / fantasy writer best known for a series of multiple-award-winning ‘time travel’ novels, but with a lengthy bibliography of other notable works. She’s won eleven Hugo and seven Nebula Awards.

IMetATravellerInAnAntiqueLand

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land is a novella in which the protagonist, Jim, an author seeking refuge among the rain-swept streets of Manhattan following a deeply antagonistic radio interview, stumbles into the doorway of a hole-in-the-wall second-hand bookstore, Ozymandias Books. The bookstore’s shelving can best be described as ‘chaotic’, with obscure works by Herman Melville and Shakespeare placed cheek by jowl with various ephemera such as The Vagabond Boys Go To Carlsbad and a Tiger Beat picture bio of Leonardo DiCaprio, and the pricing on the books can safely be called nonexistent. As can the store’s customers: there’s just Jim and a sales clerk (he supposes) seated at a desk near the storefront. In short, it’s difficult to see how such an ostensibly anticommercial enterprise can endure in such a competitive and high-rent urban environment. And when Jim takes it upon himself to follow an employee back through the ‘Staff Only’ door, then down an improbably long sequence of staircases into a vast storage space, the mystery deepens … just what kind of operation is this Ozymandias Books?

There’s a strong subcurrent of portal fantasy to Willis’s novella, grounded though it is in the ostentisbly-recognisable world of the real. It’s a tale which, when assessed against some of Willis’s work over the years—I’m thinking here, especially, of such classic and groundbreaking stories as ‘All My Darling Daughters’ and ‘Even the Queen’—might seem slight, but it’s closely imagined (and full of the titles of unreachable books which sound, in various ways, as though they’d be fascinating) and leads to its conclusion with both inevitability and sadness, as seems appropriate for a story which is, at heart, both a paean and an elegy to the printed book.

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2 responses

4 05 2018
Sue Bursztynski (@SueBursztynski)

Rats! Not in iBooks!

4 05 2018
simonpetrie

You might be able to get the Asimov’s issue it appeared in (which I think was Nov/Dec 2017) …

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