So almost two years ago, before the Big Move, Nate and I decided to start a tiny book club as another way to keep in touch. He let me pick first and I chose Jo Walton’s Among Others, a title that’d been stuck on my to-read list for awhile. It seemed appropriate to borrow a library copy:
“I don’t think I’m like other people. I mean on some deep fundamental level. It’s not just being half a twin and reading a lot and seeing fairies. It’s not just being outside when they’re all inside. I used to be inside. I think there’s a way I stand aside and look backwards at things when they’re happening which isn’t normal.”
The story opens in 1979 and is told through the diary entries of Welsh teenager, Mori. In the recent past, she suffered a traumatic accident that killed her twin sister, crushed one of her legs, and moved her to an English boarding school. At school, she doesn’t fit in with her peers and spends most of her time obsessively reading sci-fi/fantasy books. She sees fairies (we think) and fears her mother who may or may not be an actual witch. Here are some thoughts Nate and I had after reading (abridged and tweaked). Spoilers aplenty!
“I honestly wasn’t sure if any of the faerie stuff was actually happening or if it was just in the mind of the narrator (she does, after all, give one of them a name which is directly from Lord of the Rings)… to tell the truth, I found all the fantastic stuff the least compelling part of the book. I was much more involved in Mori’s mundane world than her prattling on about talking with faeries and how her aunts are witches. I will say, though, that her talking about walking the Welsh countryside and exploring ruins really brought me back to my carefree childhood days of exploring the castles and green hills of South Wales and her super fandom of sci-fi/fantasy reminded me of my own discoveries of the same books and writers as well as finally discovering like-minded people who enjoy the same weird stuff.
I gather this novel is semi-autobiographical. Walton was born in 1964 which would also make her 15 in 1979.
I’ll also add that this is very unusual that all the male characters have little to no agency in the story which is almost unheard of in sci-fi/fantasy. Everything that happens is a result of Mori’s choices and actions. I like that line near the end after she finishes battling with her mother and Sam, Wim, and her dad are there, and it’s something like ‘I didn’t need any of them to help me. But I was glad they were there.’ Also, props to repeating a very obscure line from Lord of the Rings (Huorns will help.)”
“Yeah, it’s totally a book that was written to cheerlead other books. And libraries. I loved Among Others
because it’s such a perfect love letter to sci-fi/fantasy. I think, more than anything, that’s why it’s so charming and successful.
Hmmm, I wonder if the magic was supposed to be taken literally since we can only take Mori’s word for it (and her boyfriend who kinda-sorta sees what she does). There’s so much subtlety in Mori’s brand of spell-casting that it could easily be seen as focused intent paired with a healthy imagination. I guess I lean towards seeing it as magic-magic simply because it’s more interesting and gives maximum impact to her outsider status at the boarding school. The diary-format doesn’t always work but it was really good here in establishing that separation she feels from her peers… as well as that feeling many outsiders harbor of being extra special as an outsider. Like, she is more special in that she sees a fairy world most teens don’t.
For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that Mori might be autobiographical for the author but that completely makes sense within the timeline. There are so many books name-dropped that I want to read now! For future reference, I found this rad Pinterest board of the books mentioned.”
Nate liked it. I loved it.
Recommended to: teen outsiders (past and present), sci-fi/fantasy fans, library nerds, and Welsh dreamers