Saturday, June 14, 2014

Everything is magic

And it was the landscape that formed us, that made us who we were as we grew in it, that affected everything. We thought we were living in a fantasy landscape when actually we were living in a science fictional one. In ignorance, we played our way through what the elves and giants had left us, taking the fairies' possession for ownership. I named the dramroads after places in The Lord of the Rings when I should have recognised that they were from The Chrysalids.
Among Others, by Jo Walton, was not what I expected it to be. And it's completely wonderful.

It's described as a story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood. Well, yes, but that makes it sound like the kind of book I'm not at all interested in reading. Mori is a messed-up teenager, in a mostly normal and self-aware kind of way. We don't relive her childhood with her — we see only fragments, are told a few memories — but it's mostly basic stuff: single mom with control issues, twin sister with whom Mori created or discovered a secret world. Yes, there's a tragic accident, but "troubled childhood" sounds like abuses and traumas that it's not. So, teenage girl, can't stand her mom, bad leg after the accident, sent to a boarding school, depressed maybe, lonely, a bit of a nerd, trying to make friends.

The book description also says she's sent to "a place all but devoid of true magic," which made me think the novel was set in some alternate fantasy land. But no, it's very firmly set in our actual world, 1980.

Mori is an utterly charming bookworm. She loves science fiction, but she reads mysteries and Thomas Hardy and Plato too. This is what makes the book for me, how she talks about the books she's excited to read, what she ordered at the library, what she unearthed at the bookstore, there's so much joy in it; but she really talks about the books, the ideas, she's developing tastes and reading attentively, and synthesizing what she's read, connecting the books, and considering alternate worlds, gender politics, social structures. She's totally growing up through these books. And then she joins the book club at the library and it's marvelous.
It doesn't matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.
Here's a list of all the books Mori references. I've read barely a handful of them — makes me wonder what the heck I was reading at that age. (Douglas Adams, Thomas Hardy, Michael Moorcock, Ayn Rand, Joephine Tey, Dalton Trumbo, Margaret Atwood, Orwell, Huxley, Calvino, Somerset Maugham, Heinlein; Piers Anthony and Katherine Kurtz came later; Asimov and Lem and Doris Lessing much later still.)

(I must read Alan Garner's Red Shift.)

One thing that puzzles me is that Mori reads sci-fi, but the world she lives in has fairies, magic, witches. And that seems even odder to me if you consider the possibility that this world may be a psychological construct.

Check out the Q&A on Jo Walton's website, where there are links aplenty to great reviews.

See also the review at Is it magic or is it mimetic?
I thought, sitting there, that everything is magic. Using things connects them to you, being in the world connects you to the world, the sun streams down magic and people and animals and plants grow from sunlight and the world turns and everything is magic.


mistah charley, ph.d. said...

re "everything is magic" - 19th century psychophysicist Gustav Fechner (who is generally credited with introducing the median into the analysis of data) wrote,

Of all miracles, the greatest is that anything exists at all.

Stefanie said...

I have yet to read her novels but I am enjoying Why This Book is so Good. Will definitely read this one sooner rather than later it sounds so good!

Isabella K said...

@mistah charley, That's a great quote! I've seen it used in origin-of-the-universe-type books.

@Stefanie, I've followed her posts on and I've come to think of her as "one of us" -- a real reader. And her enthusiasm for books is infectious. This novel definitely captures that.