Title: Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
Published: Out now
Following the death of her sister, Mori escapes her abusive, magic-using mother to live with her estranged father, leaving the wild, fairy-filled valleys of Wales for a more mundane life in Shropshire. She escapes and grows through her love of science fiction novels. But her mother refuses to let go, and a climactic battle seems inescapable.
This beautiful novel shares a similarity of tone and lyrical language with some of my favourite Margaret Atwood novels. Immersing myself in it was a true pleasure. Mori is an irresistible protagonist. She is innocent on many levels, but wise and experienced in a paranormal world beyond the imagining of her schoolfriends.
The novel is written in the form of a memoir. This works brilliantly. As well as being privy to all her fears, doubts and dreams, we learn about significant events as Mori feels able to discuss them. The story of how her sister died, in the incident which seriously damaged Mori's leg, is drip fed throughout the novel. There are no big expository scenes, rather the reader is left to piece much of it together, through hints, clues and what is not said, rather than what is said. For much of the novel, I was unsure how much of Mori's world of magic and fairies was in her head; a response to the horrific events she experienced. But the truth of that world also gradually makes itself known.
Mori is a voracious reader of science fiction novels – terrifyingly so in fact! Throughout the novel she enthuses about what she is reading. She compares novels with previous works she has read, she applies lessons learned to her own life. Science fiction gives her a key to forming a relationship with her father, a solace from her lonely life at boarding school and, through her local library's SF book club, a circle of friends. In the hands of a less capable writer, this listing and discussion of classic SF could have felt like showing off, or soapbox lecturing, but Jo Walton so deftly weaves this aspect of Mori's soul that it feels no more jarring than say, a character who loves to walk describing the walk they're taking.
The contrast between Mori's fairytale world and how she experiences it, and her everyday life and how she experiences that, is marked and intoxicating. We shift from a shy teenage girl worrying about what bus to get and if a boy likes her, to a fierce, brave warrior, fighting to save the world and her soul.
Although we only learn about other characters through Mori's descriptions, there are several wonderful figures to love, from her newly discovered paternal grandfather, Miss Carrol the school librarian, to her browbeaten, yet quietly brave father. While Mori adores her Welsh Gramma, Gramper and Auntie Teg, the adult in me can't quite forgive them for letting the two girls suffer under their mother's tyranny for so long.
This is a strange, beautiful, unsettling, wonderful novel. I thoroughly recommend it. Then I recommend going to its pinterest, to check out all the books Mori mentions. It's a vast list, but I'm pretty sure that among the old favourites covered in the book, you'll make a sizeable new reading list. I know I have.