Over the past few months, many of you have recommended that I read “Among Others” by Jo Walton, both because of the magical and ethereal atmosphere and the numerous references to science fiction and fantasy novels. I borrowed a copy from the library and loved it every bit as much as you all said that I would!
The story is set largely in a boarding school, which made me reminisce about the books of my childhood. Stories like A Little Princess, Jane Eyre, and even Harry Potter captivated my imagination, and to this day I associate boarding schools with a vaguely sinister sense of magic and wonder.
The protagonist is a teenage girl named Mori. Her mother is a witch, and she talks to fairies, but it isn’t what you’d expect. The story takes a slow and meandering pace, mostly focusing on Mori’s struggles to fit in with her peers and her daily trials and tribulations. She feels like she’s an outsider, and takes solace in reading the classics of science fiction and fantasy.
Think of this as a memoir. Think of it as one of those memoirs that’s later discredited to everyone’s horror because the writer lied and is revealed to be a different colour, gender, class, and creed from the way they’d made everybody think. I have the opposite problem. I have to keep fighting to stop making myself sound more normal. Fiction’s nice. Fiction lets you select and simplify. This isn’t a nice story, and this isn’t an easy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It’s not like you’d believe it anyway.
The real magic of “Among Others,” to me, is that Mori reminded me of my own teenage self. She would have been a kindred spirit. Of course, I gravitated to philosophy rather than sci-fi at the time, and spent my afternoons in the company of Locke, Hume, and Rousseau, but the sentiment remains the same. Many of you probably had similar experiences, and like Mori, used books as a form of escapism to survive your teenage years. The fairies take a backseat to this overarching theme, but that’s okay, and I wouldn’t have wanted the story to play out in any other way.
One of the things that I enjoyed here was the way that Jo Walton describes magic. It’s a subtle idea, and is treated as the causative force behind coincidences. At several points in the story, I wondered if it was all simply in Mori’s head, and that she was inventing the fairies to reconcile herself with a difficult childhood. I changed my mind as the novel progressed, but the fact that magic seemed so normal and almost dismissible made it even more special to me. It makes you feel bad for the people who are unable to recognize it.
As a brief forewarning, “Among Others” is the kind of book that will make you want to read more books. Be prepared for that. It will make you want to spend your evenings curled up with Silverberg, LeGuin, or Zelanzy.
I would recommend this to you if you spent your childhood exploring the worlds found within books. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but I get the feeling that most of you reading this are the type of people who would love it.
I read this as part of the Award Winning Books Challenge, as “Among Others” won a well-deserved Hugo award several weeks ago.