Jo Walton's "My Real Children": infinitely wise, sad and uplifting novel
An ambitious and nuanced story that left Cory Doctorow in tears, the new novel from award-winner Jo Walton is about an elderly woman who remembers two lives.
Excerpt: Read the first seven chapters of My Real Children.
Jo Walton's My Real Children literally kept me up all night, weeping uncontrollably with the most astounding mixture of joy and sorrow I have ever felt, but not able to stop until I'd finished it. I'm writing this the next morning, and I find myself keeping the book at arm's length, lest it trigger another round of tears.
It's the story of Patricia Cowan, a British woman who, in 2015, is in an old folks' home where she is "very confused," her dementia having consumed her past life. Or lives. Because Patricia can remember two lives, forking at the moment where she is courted by a young philosopher she met at Oxford during World War II. In one life, she marries the man, Mark, and finds herself trapped in a loveless, terrible marriage where she is expected to subsume her identity and ambitions to the career of a bullying, second-rate academic. In the other life, she becomes an independent woman, an authority on Renaissance Italy who parlays her expertise into a comfortable life writing travel guides, and who, unexpectedly, falls in love with another woman, a scientist who is her soulmate.
By this point, I was thinking, aha, here we go: we follow the happy life in one thread, the unhappy life in the other, and Walton will show us how the institutionalized sexism of post-War Britain ruined the lives of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in it. But Walton's more ambitious, and nuanced, than that. Both of Cowan's lives are full of soaring happiness, thanks to the love of good people and her own endless capacity to love and care for the people around her -- and because of her ability to find independent happiness and meaning, no matter what her circumstances.
And both of her lives are full of the most heart-wrenching sorrow, precisely because she has so much to lose. The people around her -- good people, bad people, selfish people, giving people -- are imperfect in the way of all of us humans, and their peril and failures (and Cowan's resilience) as well as their nobility left me puffy-eyed and cried out, and uplifted, at the same time.
My Real Children is a story of pure love without an ounce of sentimentality, infinitely wise about the human condition, parenting, and family. It changed the way I think about the very meaning of life. By playing Cowan's two lives against each other, Walton has brilliantly illuminated something raw and true about where happiness comes from, and where it leads.
Walton's last novel, Among Others, was one of the best novels of 2011, winning the Hugo, Nebula, and British Fantasy Awards. If anything, My Real Children surpasses it. I am an enormous fan of Walton's books (her Farthing/Ha'Penny/Half-A-Crown alternate histories are among my favorites), but even by the high standards of her body of work, My Real Children is a standout.
My Real Children
Excerpt: Read the first seven chapters of My Real Children here at Boing Boing.
Old-school bOING bOING editor Jon Lebkowsky invites everyone to Cyberpunk2017, the Annual EFF/EFF-Austin SXSW Afterparty in Austin, Texas, Saturday, March 11, 2017, from 5pm to 1am! It’s free! Jon writes: Our latest EFF/EFF-Austin event takes a cyberpunk perspective on 2017, exploring how our vision of the future has changed over the last forty years of […]
The fully-funded Macchina project on Kickstarter is an Arduino-based, “open, versatile” gadget that bypasses the DRM in your car’s network, allowing you to configure it to work the way you want it to, so you can customize your car in all kinds of cool ways.
I’m touring 20 US cities (plus dates in Canada and the UK!) with my forthcoming novel Walkaway; the full tour hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m delighted to reveal that the NYC stop on May 3 will be at the New York Public Library, where my interlocutor will be the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Tickets are […]
DJI is the world’s leading designer and producer of easy-to-fly drones and aerial photography systems. If you’re a drone enthusiast, you want a DJI. If you know absolutely nothing about drones and think they’re weird, if you win a DJI you’re going to become a drone enthusiast.Enter this giveaway (for free, yes) and you’ll get a […]
Although there will never be a consensus about the best way to make coffee, any coffee connoisseur will agree that controlling the grind of your beans and balancing water temperature are the keys to a tasty cup. Since your plastic coffee pot doesn’t really allow for that kind of customization, going back to the French […]