“Their world is real… Just in a different way. At a different angle”(1)
Also real, from a different angle, is Jo Walton’s novel, Among Others. This smartly written book defies easy classification, and won’t appeal to all readers. It will find, however, a dedicated following.
Title: Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
ISBN: 076532153X, 978-0765321534
First published: January 2011.
A teenage girl recounts her formative years, influenced by her outsider status, love of science fiction and fantasy, belief in magic, and problematic relationships with fairies, a departed twin sister, and her mother, who may be a literal witch.
He smiled at me, and I got that breathless feeling again. “America’s real, you know, it’s not just in science fiction. Greg’s been there. He went to a WorldCon in Phoenix. He met Harlan Ellison!”
“What’s a WorldCon?”
I enjoyed the difficult balancing act Walton performs in this novel. We spend most of the book contemplating Morwenna’s reliability, and even her sanity. We don’t know if fairies actually exist; even the revelations at the end remain open to interpretation. Her accounts of magical events, meanwhile, resemble familiar, mundane reality, filtered through her particular point-of-view. The dark magic she ascribes to her aunts, for example, sounds like the real-world machinations of controlling individuals, interpreted through paranoia and imagination. Then again, maybe that’s how magic works, imperceptable, easy to explain in other terms. “[D]id you ever read so much SF,” asks her friend, Wim, “that you start thinking you don’t know quite what’s impossible any more? Where you’re ready to start admitting hypotheses that you know are screwy…?”(220)
The book is, in part, a hymn to the role SF and Fantasy plays in the lives of certain lonely types. Many people enjoy these genres, but there can be little question they attract a number of readers who find themselves at odds with conventional society. The degree to which Morwenna discusses other writers throughout the book, giving reviews of the greater and lesser works she reads, presents two problems. Firstly, it limits the readership. This isn’t so much a criticism, as a statement of fact. Some people will find Morwenna’s cross-references grow impenetrable; others will love the book all the more for them. Secondly, it becomes tedious in places, even for those of us who get the references.
It would, of course, be difficult to separate Morwenna from her reading.
Originality: 4/6 Many elements will be familiar, but the book has a niche of its own.
Story: 4/5 Walton has written a novel of character, and it may not appeal to some fans of her other, more conventional stories. She weaves her drama from the everyday; Among Others has the unmistakeable feel of a blog or diary. Certain major events happen just out of the range of the readers’ direct observation, and we’re left to draw our own conclusions about them.
The story has its own clever weirdness, but also a lot of “and then he kissed me” sort of moments. The girls at the boarding school Morwenna attends are predictably cruel and catty, in that casual sort of way real-life girls can be. Walton may open the door to magic, but she avoids the hyperbolic exaggerations to which many treatments of adolescence are prone.
Characterization: 5/6. Morwenna’s voice and thought-processes have been brilliantly realized. The secondary characters receive less development, largely because we see them through the filter of Morwenna’s voice.
Emotional Response: 5/6.
Overall score: 5/6
In total, Among Others receives 33/42