In Among Others it’s unclear where the line between autobiography and fiction resides; but, at the very least, I assume fiction takes over where magic blurs the edges of reality. The novel won the Hugo Award (2012), the Nebula Award (2011), and the British Fantasy Award (The Robert Holdstock Award, 2012).
The story is revealed as diary entries by the protagonist, Mori (Morrwenna), an intelligent fifteen year old who can speak with fairies (when they feel like it). Mori’s mother, Liz, is described as a mentally ill witch with evil intentions. Mori has run away from Liz after an accident that maimed Mori’s leg and took the life of her twin sister, Mor (the accident was apparently an unfortunate by-product of her mother’s dark magic). She seeks asylum with her estranged father, who lives with his three sisters. Her father is a weak man, his sisters rule the roost, and Mori is sent away to boarding school.
Mori is a voracious reader, and the novel is, in part, a love-letter to science fiction and fantasy books and their authors (and librarians). Fortunately, I devoured a huge volume of ‘speculative’ fiction when I was young and I recognized most of the numerous references within the book (and I was particularly happy to find the inclusion of such favourites as Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Robert Silverberg); but, as I was reading, I wondered how an ‘outsider’ would respond, because my memories of reading the books Mori refers to adds layers to the mood of Among Others. Perhaps the novel is Jo Walton’s way of forming a global karass (a group of people connected in a cosmically significant manner, from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle).
The magic in the novel is managed with subtle panache, and is intriguingly non-temporal: any magic performed exits the bonds of time to form a seamless, causal link from the past to the present, which makes the magic performed, and its results, seem unrelated (this ‘tidy’ characteristic embodies the same conundrums that always disturbed the logical part of my mind when reading time travel stories. But somehow, it works). This made me wonder if the author was hinting that Mori is so wrapped up in the world of the fantastic that the magical elements are imagined. At one point, Mori feels the need to declare that she can tell fact from fiction: “I can tell the difference, really I can” (Wednesday 5th December 1979, p. 136), and at another point in the story she recalls a freind who, when young, could see the fairies, but later in life claimed it was only a game they played (Tuesday 6th November 1979, p. 99). Ultimately, it is left to the reader to decide what is real and what is fantasy.
I enjoyed the novel, and there were even a few references to works I haven’t read that I may look up. Events proceed with a charming aura and, although not much happens in the novel, it is the journey that makes the experience worthwhile. For me, the journey began decades ago as a young boy. Since finishing the novel I’m almost sure I’ve detected fairies out the corners of my eyes, at the edge of what is called reality.