Sunday, 9 February 2014

Among Others by Jo Walton

I am of two minds about this book. There are things about it I liked a great deal. And then there were the ways in which I reached the end and went "huh." Let's see if I can sum up - I like the authorial voice and the way the world Walton creates is dripping with books. On the other hand, the pacing is strange, and rarely, if ever, does what comes seem to build on what's gone before. It isn't that they are forgotten, but the book doesn't tend to use what has come before to construct a satisfying narrative.

Mor is a fifteen-year-old Welsh girl, sent to live with the father she never knew after running away from her mother. Her aunts aren't crazy about having her around and so they send her off to boarding school. Once there, Mor deals with the mundane problems of being strange and bookish in a school where no one really likes her (boy, do I know that one) and the more supernatural problems that stem from being able to see fairies.

It is ambiguous for most of the book, and I think deliberately so, whether or not Mor is really seeing fairies and is able to do magic, or whether she clings to games from her younger days to cope with the loss of her sister.

That ambiguity worked for me - I kept trying to figure out which it was, and even when the book jumps one way or the other, it's done in a subtle way that I very much enjoyed.

And I did like how much books were the centre of Mor's world. I loved her discussions of science fiction, and how it became a lifeline for her in the midst of a world that couldn't care less about her. I had a happy family life, but at times, a much less happy school life, and like Mor, books, particularly science fiction, were my own lifeline. Some of her entries I felt like I could have written myself. Although I don't think I was quite as discerning a reader then as I am now - I needed more books under my belt before I could come to the kinds of opinions that Mor has.

It's nice to have a bookish heroine who actually, you know, reads books, and discusses them and lives in them.

But the pacing, oh, the pacing. Just felt so off. It did, indeed, feel like diary entries from real life might feel. Things happen, with no connection. Real life, absolutely. But that doesn't necessarily make great fiction. Things that were foreshadowed early in the book absolutely fizzled out. The conclusion came abruptly, with little preamble. It just needed a slightly stronger story arc to tie the diary entries to and I think I would have no complaints whatsoever.

Also, the external events seemed unconnected to the internal ones. Heavy spoilers here - don't read them if you haven't read the book and are antsy about such things. (view spoiler)

And while I liked the flavour of magic, Mor's obsession with her responsibilities was both interesting, and eventually, frustrating. Figuring out your responsibilities when playing with forces beyond your control, fantastic. Obsessing over whether or not you caused everyone around you to come into being because you did magic may accurately reflect the self-absorption of a fifteen-year-old, but when dwelt on overmuch, becomes irritating.

There just never felt like any sort of escalation in the way the book went. Things happened, didn't seem necessarily to connect, didn't build on each other to come to a satisfying climax. And yet, I like the main character a lot, and all the elements are there to create a crackling good yarn. They just aren't knitted together to my satisfaction.

Booklinks:

I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

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