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Book 177: Among Others by Jo Walton

Book 177: Among Others.
Author: Jo Walton (papersky), 2011.
Genre: Coming of Age. Period Fiction. Fantasy. Faeries. Witchcraft/Magic.
Other Details: Paperback 304 pages and Unabridged Audio Book (10 hours, 39 mins). Read by Katherine Kellgren.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead. Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off… - synopsis from publisher's website.

In 2012 Among Others won the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novel and also the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel. I came late to reading it though like many others I found this to be an excellent work that recalled to mind my own love of books as a child and teen along with the myriad worlds they opened up for me. Mori is a lonely 15-year old girl recovering from a devastating accident that led to the death of her twin and her own disability. Her love of books, especially fantasy and science fiction, informs the journal she keeps over a period of six months (September 1979-February 1980), in which she also records details of her daily life and thoughts as well as touching upon the traumatic events of her past.

Mori writes about magic and faeries though these aspects manifest in a different manner to that found in much fantasy set in the 'real world'. Her faeries reminded me of those depicted by Brian Froud and Mark Potts, with faces resembling twigs and acorns. Magic in Mori's world works very much as magic does in the real world through natural means that could be explained away through chains of coincidences. It is magic which can easily be denied if one chooses rather than the wand-waving or nose twitching many fantasy authors use.

The publisher mentions that Among Others has autobiographical aspects though it is unclear what is and what isn't and that may be why sometimes it was hard to accept Mori's experiences with magic and the Fae at face value. Even with my background in esoteric studies I wondered at times if Mori was an unreliable narrator, especially as she prefaces her diary with: "Think of this as a memoir. Think of it as one of those memoirs that's later discredited to everyone's horror because the writer lied...". She ends the passage saying "But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It's not like you'd believe it anyway." This preface was a little confusing and I rather wish she'd left it out and I had read Mori's account without any disclaimers. Still Jo Walton states on-line that she never intended for the magic and faerie aspects to be seen as ambiguous. Reading those remarks made me want to re-encounter the novel with this in mind and I expect that I will as it made quite an impression upon me.

I first encountered the novel in its audio format, enjoying Katherine Kellgren's narration, which she did using a sing-songy Welsh accent. However, as I had listened to it over a few weeks, I elected to then read the novel in its print edition.

Jo Walton's page on 'Among Others' - contains background on the genesis of the novel and a Q&A session that addresses issues mentioned above.

Ursula le Guin's review of 'Among Others' - from 'The Guardian'.
Tags: audio book, award winner, bildungsroman/coming of age, fantasy, literature, period fiction (20th century), sci-fi

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