Among Others Hardcover – 18 Jan 2011
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Among Others is a wonder and a joy. (Jeff Vandermeer, New York Times)
If you love SF and fantasy, if reading it formed your teen years, if you do remember the magic you used to do, if you remember the absolute joy of first discovering those books, then read this. (Robin Hobb)
'Funny, acute, and impassioned . . . Walton's trying hard to do what I call moving the boundary: to alter, or make more permeable, the wall between the possible and the impossible. I think she almost succeeds.' (Ursula le Guin)
A hymnal for the clever and odd - an inspiration and a lifeline to anyone who has ever felt in the world, but not of it. (Cory Doctorow)
Among Others is about a young girl brought up in a magical family who is sent to a mundane, non-magical school; a captivatingly told mirror image of Harry Potter. (The Guardian)
A lovely story, unlike anything I've ever read before: funny, touching, and gently magical. (Patrick Rothfuss)
I don't believe I've seen, either in fiction or in memoir, as brilliant and tone-perfect an account of what discovering SF and fantasy can mean to its young readers... Remarkable. (Gary K. Wolfe Locus)
There are the books you want to give all your friends, and there are the books you wish you could go back and give your younger self. And then there's the rare book, like Jo Walton's Among Others, that's both. (io9.com)
Beautifully crafted... Among Others calls to those who desire a wild, magical world in place of the one they have but eventually learn that their own lives are the greatest story of all.(Bloomsbury Review)
Compelling... Never deigning to transcend the genre to which it is clearly a love letter, this outstanding (and entirely teen-appropriate) tale draws its strength from a solid foundation of sense-of-wonder and what-if. (Publishers Weekly, starred review) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel. Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.See all Product description
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At the heart of it, lurking in her subconscious, is the demise of her twin, rendered unspeakable and referred to indirectly, and her connection to the fairy folk, mentioned in a non-magical way, which makes the extraordinary ordinary, and perhaps more believable for the lack of fuss with which it is dealt with. Along the way, we learn that her mother is a witch, when a schoolmate asks her about her photos which her mother has burnt the part with her sister away. We know not whether to believe her because prior to this she lets on that her mother may have found her through the things she owns, as if through magic.
What anchors the novel in reality is ironically, the narrator's escape into science fiction novels. Morwenna is an avid reader and it is clear that Walton too, is a huge SF fan and many of the books referred to are discussed in some detail, like mini book reviews in their own right. Real authors and real novels that deal with future worlds and alternative realities are strangely juxtaposed against Morwenna's own fantastical (but nonetheless) real world. While this works well, there is a sense of the story lacking a centre and the plot with her sister and mother is constantly deferred in favour of discussion about these SF novels.
The writing is inconsistent, with sentences that sound clumsy, and some editing problems where an extra preposition or two interrupts the flow of writing. Quite a surprise for a novel that is so highly regarded. Overall, it was a patchy though interesting work.
In Jo Walton's Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel Among Others, however, it's almost the other way round. Teenage narrator Mori comes from a family of witches and has spent her childhood talking to fairies with her twin sister in the Welsh valleys. But at the start of the novel, recently bereaved and estranged from her terrifying mother, Mori finds herself in the care of a father she's never met and sent to an English boarding school where magic is in decidedly short supply.
If this makes Among Others sound like a cutesy, comic children's book, don't be fooled. It's aimed at adults (although I imagine many teenagers would thoroughly enjoy it) and although it is indeed funny in places, its overall tone is wistful and occasionally very sad, although there's a pleasing undercurrent of hope throughout. Obsessed with fantasy and sci-fi novels and academically gifted, but with an eccentric perspective that makes her awkward among her peers, it's hard not to love Mori as she narrates her story through a series of diary entries, even when her decisions are dubious.
And yet, the thing that I enjoyed most about Among Others is something I haven't really seen any reference to yet in any other reader reviews (I haven't read any reviews by professional critics yet) - which is that it's very hard to say whether Mori really is magical at all. As she explains herself, magic makes things happen by causing 'chains of coincidence'. In Mori's magical world, a spell to destroy a factory doesn't make it disappear in a puff of smoke, it simply closes down for reasons of economy, so it's impossible to tell whether things happen by magic or just ... happen. Her hated mother, supposedly a wicked witch bent on something akin to world domination, sometimes seems more akin to an abusive, violent woman, possibly with a mental illness and certainly highly manipulative, and when we learn exactly how the accident occurred that has killed Mori's twin and left Mori disabled by a horrific leg injury as the two were running away, it seems hard to suggest that magic had anything to do with it.
Mori's love of science-fiction and fantasy literature is obsessive, meaning the novel is crammed with references to books and authors of the genre which shape Mori's relationship with her father and almost everyone else who becomes important to her, and it's both a comfort blanket and an escape for a confused, traumatised child. Could it be that the only way she can cope psychologically with her situation - abuse at the hands of her mother, the loss of her identical twin ('the better half of us'), a stint in a children's home (the horrors of which are only ever hinted at), a new and painful disability and life at a mediocre boarding school rife with bullies and a disturbing lack of privacy - is to frame it in a fantasy that somehow makes sense of it? Or is she a genuine 'good witch' whose open-mindedness and unique perspective really does help her to see the fairies and the sense the magic that others can't?
Mori is certain that 'it would be insane' of her to stop believing in fairies. Is this because it's insane to deny what she can plainly see, or is it that she would go insane if she didn't have the fantasy of magic to cling to? Are we to believe her or not when she assures us 'I can tell the difference [between fiction and reality], really I can'?
Personally, I never quite made up my mind, but regardless of what Mori is and why she's different, I loved her from the very first page. Her lack of self-pity, her affectionate fondness for her eccentric extended family, her kindness, her occasional naivete, her incredible resilience, her genuine determination to forge some sort of future for herself after her life has been ripped apart and her unique narrative voice all make Mori one of the most appealing teenage characters since I Capture The Castle's Cassandra Mortmain, so much so that I almost wished I was 15 again and attending Mori's ghastly boarding school so we could be friends.
The detail and frequency of the sci-fi literature references may irritate some readers, and this is not a book to read if you're looking for an eventful plot or fast-moving action; it has neither of those things. It does, however, have a certain beauty about it - a certain magic - that drew me in and kept me utterly captivated to the end.
"For all the libraries in the World and all the librarians."
This is a book for book lovers.
The story starts in May 1975, in a small town in Wales and the focus is the local Phurnacite Factory which eventually closes down; an incident the main protagonist Morwenna believes to be the result of a strong wish.
The narrative, quite stream of consciousness, is a little confusing at first but the reader quickly discovers that Mor is a surviving twin. In 1979 she is sent off to boarding school by her three aunts and her father. Mor is partly isolated because of her disability and the need to use a cane.
When she gets to boarding school the girls all seem to stare at her shoes because, in Mor's own words, they are 'cripple shoes'.
This novel is a veritable reading list for the avid reader. Mor's father's study is brimming with SF paperbacks, which he gladly shares with Mor as part of her education.
It's a rather nostalgic piece of work as young Mor delights when her father gives her an Ace double, which many may remember from their childhood. On top of this, Mor sees and talks to fairies, a fantastical element to the novel which leaves the reader doubting her; she is the typical unreliable narrator.
An inkling of what you can expect from this book is best summarised with Walton's own words as she talks about Zenna Henderson and Pilgrimage;
"I can bear anything as long as there are books."
And that is the essence of Among Others.
It is not about fairies. It is about Mor's journey in life and the solace and addiction of the SF literature she discovers, which makes her life mean something.
Although this novel is fiction, in this respect it feels semi-autobiographical and is actually a SF resource up there with Dave Langford's SF Encylopaedia.
Brilliant, moving, emotional and thoughtful.
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