Among Others by Jo Walton

Posted On 30 December 2012

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Just finished reading Among Others by Jo Walton.  I confess I have mixed feelings about this book which I think have stopped me from loving this as much as I wanted although I did enjoy it and thought the story was really well written.

Mori is a 15 year old girl.  Her twin sister has died in an accident that also left Mori with a damaged hip leaving her needing to use a stick to walk.  Mori ran away from her mother and after a short spell living at a children’s home has gone to live with her estranged father (Daniel) and his three sisters.  She is despatched to the local boarding school where she struggles to fit in.  The difference with Mori and the other school girls is that she believes in magic and fairies.  She thinks her mother is a witch who is using dark magic for her own gain and she constantly sees and, in fact talks to, the fairies who exist all around us.

I think this is one of the areas that is really well done.  I was never quite sure if the magic and fairies were just a product of Mori’s imagination and a coping mechanism or whether she was really experiencing something strange and wonderful.  It’s very subtly written.  The magic isn’t all about flashing wands and broomsticks but simple rituals, wards and protections and the belief that Mori has in the magic.  If Mori attempts magic she’s never sure if something would actually have occurred naturally or not.  There’s also the ‘wicked mother’ element – is her mother evil or is she suffering herself – you’re never quite sure.  Or at least I wasn’t.  For me Mori came across as a lonely character who has maybe suffered neglect, loss and the feeling of not being wanted by her family who has this whole other magical community surrounding her that nobody else can see.  It’s sort of like an imaginary friend.

The method of story telling is through a diary which Mori keeps.  Again, I think this is a really good form of story telling.  At first you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the entries are a little bland but this is a 15 year old girl after all.  I remember keeping a diary for a couple of years with some sort of romantic notion that I would later look back on these and it would be a revelation – it wasn’t.  I did in fact look back as a precursor to having a good clear out and the writing was the most inane imaginable.  Actually Mori’s diaries are amazing by comparison!!  The only issue I had with the diary system of story telling is that you’re never really made fully aware of what actually did take place in Mori’s life beforehand.  After all, she’s writing a diary about ‘now’ not ‘then’ and so this means that there is a very slow reveal to past occurrences and you never fully gather a full picture of her history.  What I did question with the diary entries were that there never appeared to be a great deal of sadness about the loss of the sister – or it didn’t come across to me as though there was but perhaps I misinterpreted it?

The thing that book lovers can’t fail to enjoy, particularly science fiction and fantasy lovers, are all the references to books and authors, bookshops and libraries.  I loved reading about all that although I didn’t know half the books mentioned and I’m sure a lot of references went straight over my head.  I think however that this could become a little bit tedious to those people out there who are not quite as book absorbed as Mori – and OMG how quickly did she read – I’m surprised she had any time for school work (but I suppose when you consider that virtually all her time was spent in school it must be a very long day)!

I will admit that Mori puzzled me.  At first, and particularly with her style of diary keeping, I wondered if she had issues with socialising – she seemed a very lone person and to an extent quite happy to be alone.  She was a little bit detached and had a very black and white way of looking at things.  Even when she attracted the attention of an older and rather good looking boy at her book club I wouldn’t say she came across as giddy about it like you would expect of a schoolgirl.

On the whole I think this is a lovely subtle read, a coming of age of a young girl who has suffered loss and is coming to terms with her circumstances in the best way she can and using her overpowering love of books to help her.  It was great to see Mori start to interact with other people and come out of her shell and also to see how others started to respond to her and become more caring.  I think if you go into this with any thoughts of all sorts of magic and mysticism then you may be disappointed.  Like I mentioned earlier this is a very subtle story.

In terms of criticisms – the whole boyfriend issue felt a little too easily worked out.  Everything just seemed to fall into place too easily.  Mori never seemed to suffer from any sort of nerves or embarrassment and also I wasn’t totally convinced that it was necessary to the story and it somehow felt a little bit tacked on.  I also thought it somehow felt a little out of character with Mori – suddenly she was all about the good looking boy and seemed to quite easily drop the other friends she had just made – okay, I can imagine that happening with girls that age – but Mori came across as different is all.

There was one other issue that I had which related to a particular episode between Mori and her father Daniel where it appeared that he made a sexual pass at her that was then dropped and never referred to again.  I don’t know, I just found that a little disturbing but the fact that no further reference was made to the episode me wonder if the author was in some way trying to make the reader doubt Mori’s own diary accounts or to maybe not totally trust her telling of events?  Almost as though she perhaps makes things up??

However, in spite of a few little criticisms I think this is a good read that you can’t fail to enjoy.  I think you need to go into this with the right sort of expectations but with that proviso it’s a well written and very easy to read story.

 

 

 

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