Monday, June 2, 2014

Among Others: Jo Walton

I thought this might be a difficult book to review. I enjoyed reading it but I wasn't sure what to say about the book and why I liked it. It has so many elements. It is about a 15-year-old girl (Morwenna or Mori), who has moved to a new home, living with her father for the first time in her life, and has been placed in a boarding school. She doesn't fit in; she has a disability, she limps, and she is different. It is a coming of age book but I don't see it as Young Adult fiction; of course, it can be read and enjoyed by that age group.

The book is definitely in the fantasy genre. There are fairies, and magic comes into play. Still, the story of Mori's first year at a boarding school that she hates is the strongest element. She turns to the world of books for comfort, and most of the time she is reading science fiction or fantasy authors. She mentions many authors in those genres throughout out the book, with allusions to what she thinks about the author and/or the book, although with few specifics about books.

Some readers will enjoy the inclusion of her reading and her adventures at the library, trying to acquire the books she wants to read. Others may find that part of it a distraction. The story is told via entries in Mori's diary, so we only get Mori's story, Mori's opinions and what she tells us about her life. Unlike other fantasy books I have read, this one allows the reader to question if Mori truly is dealing with fairies and magic, or if this is all her imagination.

I don't know if this is a great book, but it is definitely one I will reread. I will pick up more books by the various authors mentioned in the book and try out some of the authors I have not read yet. Many of the authors were familiar to me, although I may have read some of their books long ago. Others were totally new to me. Such as Samuel R. Delany. To be honest, the fact that the book features reading, books and authors as a major part of the story was the main draw for me, and I might never had read it otherwise.

This is the first fantasy novel by Walton that I have read, but I have read her trilogy of books set in an alternate England where Germany and England reached a peace agreement in 1941: Farthing, Ha'penny, and Half a Crown. Tor has recently published a book compiling some of her blog posts for the Tor.com website, titled What Makes This Book So Great. That book also talks mainly about fantasy and science fiction books and authors, and Walton's love of books and libraries shines through.

Walton's dedication for Among Others:
This is for all the librarians in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.
There are elements of the book that are auto-biographical. The author drew on her own experiences with a disability and turning to books instead of friends for solace. The author talks about this on her website and this interview at the Guardian website.

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Publisher: Tor Books, 2011
Length:   302 pages
Format:   Trade paperback
Setting:   Wales
Genre:    Fantasy


16 comments:

  1. Nice review. This was such a special book for me but it's very hard to put my finger on why. It was just so different and with the added sci-fi recs... unputdownable... for me anyway. So glad you enjoyed it too.

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    1. I agree, a very different book. It was fantasy, but on the other hand very hard to categorize.

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  2. Tracy, I like reading fictional books about books even if the books aren't central to the plot. Mori's character reminds me of Beauty in "Beauty and the Beast" (the film) who also turns to books for comfort in the village of simple but ignorant people. Good post and review.

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    1. Prashant, I never knew that about Beauty and the Beast. I love books about books too.

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    2. Tracy, the 1991 version has that bit about her love for books. In fact, she picks up a book she has already read many times. There is a song about books too, I think. Later, she is astounded when she sees the Beast's sky-high library. This is my favourite animated movie. You will like it too.

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    3. Prashant, I haven't ever seen the animated version (or any version for that matter) and I have heard it is good. I will have to try it.

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  3. Tracy - It does sound like a different sort of book. That alone sounds interesting. Sometimes, for some people, that sort of 'different' works brilliantly, and sometimes it doesn't. I'll have to think about whether it's my sort of book - usually I'm not much of a one for fantasy - but I just might try it.

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    1. As a coming of age novel, it is beautifully done, Margot. Of course, I liked everything about it. I think you would find it a worthwhile experience, but it got varied reviews.

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  4. As I've said before, I have a Jo Walton book lined up on my shelves - Farthing. It might have been you that set me onto it. Once I've read that one I will be ready for more by her....

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    1. I do hope you like Farthing, Moira, that was my favorite of the trilogy. It can stand alone. I suppose any of them could stand alone, but the 2nd and the 3rd book are more tied together. And I hope it has clothes in it... it has been too long and I don't remember.

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  5. This seems like a really beautiful book! I love magical realism and characters who read :)

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    1. It was a wonderful book, Katie, on so many levels. I am going to reread it slowly and note some books I want to follow up on.

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  6. I enjoyed this book but I didn't love it for some reason. I did like all the references to other books though - in fact I probably picked up a few recommendations to add to my tbr.
    Lynn :D

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    1. Lynn, I read your review and I agree with some of the issues you have. Sometimes when I read books I like the overall feel well enough to overlook small niggles, other times they bother me more. Maybe because I was a very shy child and felt alone and read a lot, I was predisposed to like Mori. I certainly did not have all the problems she had. And the inclusion of books was an added bonus. This was one of those books I liked a lot, but hesitate to recommend to others, especially if they don't like fantasy elements.

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  7. I struggled with this one a bit...such interesting elements, but it felt a bit slow to me. I know a lot of people love it, but apparently not quite my style!

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    1. Cheryl, I agree it was slow, but the other elements I liked enough to outweigh that. Not a perfect book, and sad in some ways.

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