I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis

Welcome back to Short Story Saturday, the biggest misnomer title if I’ve ever heard one! How is this a misnomer, you might ask? Because the book I’ll be talking about today is not a short story but a novella.

  • Author: Connie Willis
  • Publisher: Subterranean Press
  • Published Date: 2018

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis is about a man who gets lost in the rain and stumbles upon a place that looks like a rundown used bookstore in the middle of Manhattan. There’s a single worker at the front desk who allows him to look around. What the man soon discovers is that this isn’t an ordinary bookstore at all.

This is a novella that begs to be read in a single sitting. The plot itself is incredibly straightforward: A man explores a weird building of books. It doesn’t stray from that concept.

What I found interesting was how open-ended it was. Nothing about it is wrapped up. We meet our protagonist as he is lamenting amount the sameness of the Manhattan streets. He has just had an interview in which he argued that books weren’t dying but changing. The novella is about searching…constantly searching for things no one seems to know or have. Even in the opening, the man is searching for an umbrella that only one place is selling. Then, he searches for safety from the deluge.

The majority of the book is him spent searching the store, which is a lot bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside, going deep underground. There are books here he’s never even heard of, along with some from his childhood he’d almost forgotten about.

I liked the implication that the open ending brings: We are constantly searching for something…for that book we saw in passing at that one place that we can’t remember the name of. Was it on a .org site? What did I search for again? Did I venture into page 2 of the Google results? Maybe page 3? No, no. I think I saw it at that bookstore downtown on 4th street. Or maybe it was 17th street.

The book is subtle with its magic. At first glance, there is none. However, you might think twice while Cassie, one of the workers, brings you to the section labeled Fires.

IMATIAAL is driven by its themes of searching and loss. The writing is such that it drives the book forward; it’s a real page turner. However, I found the weakest point was with the characters themselves. They seem to be there just to fill the requirement of having them. Honestly, this is one of those rare instances I think a 2nd person POV would have enhanced the experience. The characters themselves were so backgrounded that I forgot about the majority of them, even though the novella is in first person. They weren’t poorly written; they just existed, which I found a little disappointing.

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land is another book perfect for anyone looking for something simple and straightforward, yet with an under-layer of something bigger. Like the bookstore our protagonist finds himself in, there’s more to this book than meets the eye.

[I was provided an e-copy of this book from Subterranean Press via NetGalley. A limited edition version is set to be published by Subterranean Press in April 2018.]

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