Among Others by Jo Walton. Corsair/Constable Robinson. £7.99. Also available as an eBook
Reviewed by Jan Edwards
It would be very simple to slot Among Others neatly into the ‘rites of passage’ niche, but it really is so much more. It is an insightful look at a young teenage girl’s fight against her disability, her dysfunctional family and her lack of direction – and much more.
Mori (Morwenna) Phelps is a runaway, escaping from an insane mother who caused the death of Mori’s twin sister in an apparent magical battle that also left Mori with a crippled leg and a broken heart. The courts place Mori in the care of her estranged father and his rich but very eccentric sisters, in Shropshire, who in turn promptly send her to a posh boarding school. She is miles away from everyone she knows.
There is nothing manic or swooning about Mori; she takes all that life throws at her with stoic determination, and a wonderfully wry humour. The novel unfolds as a series of diary entries covering a few months over the period 1969/70. It holds her hopes and dreams, but also provides a window into her obsessive reading of fantasy and science fiction, with frequent acerbic judgements on books and their authors, which often had me laughing out loud. The diary entries, generally very short, also feature observations on the humdrum life she leads in a school she hates – with its strange politics concerning buns for tea and its obsession with house points. But these apparent low-key entries offer a fresh picture on who Mori is now and will be.
This novel deals with loss and yet Mori does not dwell on the darkness in her life. She has her fears and doubts, but she handles each as they arise with varying degrees of aplomb – and then moves on. We read of Mori’s casual, and occasionally frustrated, opinions on pain management, and of her logical analyses of emotional and physical turmoil caused by her completely dysfunctional family, especially her insane mother, still in South Wales, and apparently detached father.
Among Others is also about magic. Mori describes her interaction with beings that she calls fairies; but which could be anything from ghosts to her own imagination. It is very much down to the reader and her boyfriend, whom she met at an SF readers’ group in the local library, to decide what is real and what isn’t.
This is a compelling narrative, beautifully crafted, drawing you into a world that is often deceptively tranquil, and yet fraught. Among Others deservedly won the Hugo, the Nebula and the British Fantasy awards for Best Novel. Thoroughly recommended!