Among Others – Jo Walton


Among Others is a pick from my currently reading shelf (i.e. it’s one I’d started before and now finally finished.) I originally bought it when a friend from work suggested it a) because he knew I like SciFi/Fantasy and b) because it was Amazon’s deal of the day that day for 99p.

Among Others tells the story of Morwenna Phelps. She’s a twin whose sister died and she herself was injured in a car accident. She loves to read and specifically she reads SciFi/Fantasy which she devours at a scary and intimidating rate (5+ books a week!). Oh and she sees fairies and can do magic.

Which makes it sound more about that than it is. If it’s about anything it’s about books and stories and how they make you see the world a certain way. It’s also about how that can be a refuge. I think the book makes a case for it not being a withdrawal as Mor, as we come to know her, is always really trying “to live” and it’s not that she abandons ‘real life’ in favour of books, it’s that she has expectations of what life should be that come from books and these expectations cause her to reject certain things about ‘real life’ – things she sees as trivial perhaps.

The book is told from her point of view, in fact it comprises her diary for a period from the autumn of 1979 to the end of Feb 1980. This places some of the books she references very specifically in their time.Which is also the right time for when I was growing up and discovering books and SciFi books in particular.

A big question that arose for me was whether or not the magic was real. Did she really see fairies or did she merely think she did? Was her mother really a dangerous witch or simply someone with mental health issues? I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the book never steps outside of the point of view of Mor, so that question if it arises for you – and it may not – is left open to interpretation.

I enjoyed this book. It’s very good on her everyday life. She’s been shipped off to an English boarding school and is having trouble fitting in – because she’s Welsh, because she reads, because she neither cares about nor can participate in sport. So the sense of a lonely outsider is well drawn. I did feel that she was somewhat ‘spiky’. I felt I ought to have liked her more, on paper she had a lot of stuff going for her – a tragic back-story,  being the outsider, being picked on, being bookish and smart. But I never quite got over the slight sense that she felt herself better than all these other girls who weren’t into books and SciFi.

Another minor irritation – and it is no more than that – was the book references. There were so many and I’d read a handful, had heard of most but not heard of a few. However I got most of what I needed to know about them from context. Which was fine but it rankled every time she compared her situation to characters I knew of but hadn’t read, or concepts I didn’t know from SciFi novels. (If you’re thinking of reading this for example and you don’t know what a karass is then I’d look it up. She explains toward the end of the book but uses it a lot before that.)

As I said though, I did enjoy it. And if you ever felt yourself out of step with others because of a love of books, and especially SciFi/Fantasy then this might well be the book for you.

7/10 – a book about books and about magic (which may be the same thing)

TBR has gone back up to 253 because having finished one book I’d bought two new ones. Need to be careful about that deal of the day. Currently Reading holding steady at 10 because my next book is not from that list. I feel like I’m doing well but then I remind myself that this time last year I’d read 7 books. However that slowed down considerably. Plus I’m reading with an eye to enjoyment not (purely) book count this year.

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About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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2 Responses to Among Others – Jo Walton

  1. Redhead says:

    Even though I got most of the Scifi references (I’m a scifi nerd), I still didn’t love Among Others as much as I wanted to. I never really connected with Mor, and I think you hit it right on the head, that she’s “spiky”. I loved the idea of Among Others, so I feel bad that I didn’t like the book more.

    • shuggie says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree. This is one of those books I’m glad I’ve read but didn’t enjoy as much as the idea of it.

      Greate site by the way!

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