Book Notes: The Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis

Book Notes: The Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis

I was delighted to get this collection of Connie Willis’ short fiction from the library. The only downside: these 23 short stories and novellas is 700 pages long. Not easy to tuck into one’s purse to peruse at the doctor’s office. Still, I lost myself in it while at home and except for those trips to the doctor, put aside all the other books I’ve been juggling while I finished this one.

I won’t comment on all the stories, of course, but I’ll mention a few of my favorites.

The title story, “The Winds of Marble Arch”, one of the longer pieces in the book, is one of Willis’ best. Although it isn’t one of her time travel stories, it is centered as it is around London’s Underground and the Blitz and I suspect it springs from the research Willis did for Blackout and All Clear, my favorite pair of Willis novels.

“Fire Watch” is the novella that was precursor to Blackout and All Clear. Another of Willis’ time travel stories, with characters who overlap (Yay for another peek at Kivrin!) it follows a different time traveler’s experience in WWII London. Offers a different perspective on the greater project of the historians who go back in time to observe things firsthand. I’m fascinated by the way each of Willis’ explorations of this universe paints a slightly different picture of the project that Mr Dunworthy and his team of historians are engaged in so that it’s really hard to tell what is the grand theory of time travel and how exactly does the time traveling mesh with the academic institution and intellectual project being pursued.

Of the short stories, my favorite was probably “A Letter from the Clearys”. Beautifully crafted and compelling. To say much about it would be to risk saying too much, however.

*  *  *  One caveat about this collection, I’ve had friends whose older children are also reading Willis. This collection has several stories I would NOT recommend for younger readers, especially the profoundly disturbing “All My Darling Daughters”. Though most of them are fine and several I would definitely hand on, this is a collection I’d definitely preview.

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