Jo Walton (bio)
Among Others by Jo Walton is a fascinating book full of languid prose. Wistful, thought provoking, and able to touch upon my nostalgia as a fanatical reader of science fiction and fantasy it touched upon the aspects of the fantastic I love so much in a way, that for me at least, rang much truer than to the similarly themed The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Also, Walton is obviously a great lover of libraries and the books constant exultations on the wonders of the place where I have chosen to stake my professional life always brought a smile to my face. However, for all I felt that Walton is on the nose with the sense of community and the commonality that reading deeply in any genre brings there were times when Among Others was a bit of a struggle and where the constant name dropping of authors, stories, and novels occasionally grew wearying.
For those not in the know Among Others is the story of Morwenna, a teenage girl in 1960s Wales who has escaped the clutches of her mother who just happens to be a crazy witch. That escape came at the cost though as Morwenna not only maimed her leg but lost her twin sister Morganna. Morwenna, being a clever young woman, finds herself in the care of her estranged father (more-or-less driven off by her insane mother) and sent off, at the behest of her three spinster aunts (her father’s sisters), to a posh very British private school. This is pretty much where the novel begins, in diary format, as Morwenna reveals her day-to-day life. Intelligent and pragmatic Morwenna has little interest in conforming to the expectations of others; facts which find her alone more often than not. Throughout the novel Morwenna finds comfort and succor in the thoughts and ideas of science fiction and fantasy (and some mystery, and philosophy, just about any book really) as Morwenna puts it herself “I care about so few people really. Sometimes it feels as if it’s only books that make life worth living, like on Halloween when I wanted to be alive because I hadn’t finished Babel 17. I’m sure that isn’t normal.” That conflict, Morwenna’s isolation partly due to her grief from the loss of her sister, aggravated by her inhibited mobility and enhanced by her straightforward and highly opinioned personality (often at odds with “proper” society) forms the crux of the novel’s conflict.