South Park Self

If you love books enough, books will love you back.

I started reading Jo Walton with Farthing, which is a surprisingly intense and creepy alternate-history novel set in a country house in the late 1940s. Britain has withdrawn from the war with Germany, and the British upper-class environment is horribly rife with prejudice against Jews and homosexuals, in echo of the Nazi regime. It's tense and political and absolutely not my kind of book despite its murder-mystery format, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Memo to self, must hunt down the sequels.

Farthing was interesting, but it was in many ways an immature novel with some problems of structure and pacing, and it didn't blow me away like Among Others has just blown me away. This is Walton's most recent book, a fascinating and beautifully-crafted postmodern fantasy apparently based very much on her own childhood in the Welsh valleys. It's an amazingly gently-paced, almost inconsequential piece of storytelling, written in the voice of the teenaged protagonist diarising her days at school and among her family. It's brilliant because it chronicles the period after a great fantasy quest has been negotiated and out of which the heroine has emerged technically triumphant, but with enormous losses. It ends up being, rightly and properly, not about the Giant Evil Magical Threat, but about the growth into maturity of Mori, the heroine, and her increasing understanding of the world around her.

I loved this book for its postmodern take on the quest trope, but even more for its two great strengths; its depiction of magic, and its wholehearted rooting of identity in the world of fantastic literature. Mori uses literature to try and understand the slippery, corner-of-the-eye, frequently incomprehensible world of magic in which she participates without enough knowledge for genuine control. The magical creatures in this book are amazing creations, both real and numinous, incomprehensible and perfectly logical, intrinsic and threatening. The names and places and vocabulary of fantasy overlay the magical world in a way which reflects a child's attempt to render it comprehensible; because Mori's intutition about magical structures is strong the correspondences are often powerful, but they're also often amusingly incongruent. (Glorfindel made me giggle. Look out for him).

Most of all, though, Mori is one of us. If you're in any way the kind of person who grew up being a bit of an outsider at school but living, with passionate abandon, a private imaginative life in Middle-Earth and Earthsea and science fiction, this book will speak to you with enormous poignancy. SF and fantasy give Mori a vocabulary of magic, but more than that, they're a basis for forming actual, real relationships with people who share her interests. I think that if you read this blog there's a very good chance you know exactly what that feels like.

This book is very, very good, and I confidently expect to see it on the Hugo ballot, but its place there won't just be because it's a worthy piece of literature, it'll be because it addresses itself straight to the most warded heart of sf fandom's identity. It's an amazingly insightful and sensitive piece of writing, and I heartily recommend it.
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First!
(Anonymous)
Hello! May I please borrow Among Others? Or, if it is book club / otherwise booked, where did you get it please?

I have been looking for it since reading the Boing Boing Review. :)

Jo
Re: First!
(Anonymous)
Yay! i may attempt a pop-and-grab one night this week so I can read it in Kommetie this weekend. :)

jo