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My Real Children Paperback – May 19, 2015
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"Two period dramas for the price of one, told through the science fictional conceit of alternate realities…All of this is rendered with Walton's usual power and beauty."―The New York Times Book Review
"My Real Children is a quiet triumph."―Publishers Weekly
"Walton is a straightforward, unsparing writer, and she strikes a poignant balance between the ideas of agency and fate. Science fiction elements add an eerie complexity to these deeply felt portraits."―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 076533268X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765332684
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Product Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.75 x 8.25 inches
- Publisher : Tor Books; First Edition (May 19, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #941,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book opens in the present time inside the mind of an Englishwoman who was named Patricia, Patty, Patsy, Trish, or Tricia, depending on which of the two lives she was experiencing at the time and on the circumstances in which she found herself. Born in 1926, she believes she is now nearly 90 years of age. In her mind, history diverged onto two timelines when she was 23 and the man she had been dating proposed marriage.
In one life — that is, in one life along the time-space continuum — she married the man and quickly came to regret it. Suffering under a disdainful and tyrannical husband, she gave birth to four children and now has numerous grandchildren. In the other life, she chose not to accept the man’s proposal. Free from a constricting marriage, she became a successful travel writer and eventually settled into a long-term partnership with another woman. Together with a male friend, they contrived to have three children. As Patricia, Patty, etc., lies near death, she has numerous grandchildren but has outlived one son and one grandson.
If this sounds like a conventional novel, or, better yet, two conventional novels, you wouldn’t be mistaken. What centers it in the realm of science fiction is that in each of the two timelines the world does not develop along the lines in our history. In one, the world is plagued by a number of nuclear exchanges that have killed millions and doomed millions of others to death by cancer from radiation. In the other, first the Russians, then the Europeans, and finally the Americans expand into space, establishing colonies on the moon and Ganymede. Plans for the terraforming of Mars are underway.
Walton’s speculation about two possible lines of historical development is interesting if highly improbable in some ways. For example, she suggests that JFK nuked Kiev in exchange for a Russian nuclear attack on Miami, then declined to run for reelection — and was succeeded in office by his brother, Robert. It’s hard to imagine that if one brother was disgraced in office that the other could be elected to it. Also, Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, lies 390 million miles from Earth. Surely, given any likely technological development in spaceflight, it would take many years to travel that far. Establishing a colony there would be merely a fantasy for a very long time to come.)
About the author
Jo Walton writes fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. She has won several major awards in both sf and fantasy. Born in Wales, she has lived in Canada for many years. I loved her Small Change trilogy about areal n alternate history of Britain beginning with its defeat in World War II. My Real Children is not in the same class.
Top reviews from other countries
After the (brilliant) first chapter, we follow Patricia's life (lives) in sequential order, from childhood, through to the decision after which her life went down two different paths, and all the way back to the care home. It is a journey through the twentieth century as it was, and as it might have been. Most of all, it is a saga of a life - no, two sagas, of two very different lives, in two very different worlds.
Life sagas are not usually my thing. It's a genre that tends to drift towards the bittersweet and the tragicomic and hefty doses of melancholy and golden-sheened drama. Forrest Gump, the Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window, etc. etc. etc. ...
... but this book isn't like that. Yes, it zooms through Patricia's lives, sometimes at montage speed and sometimes one key moment at a time... but the split into two lives in two different versions of the 20th century is an inspired idea: the slog of one life contrasts with the bliss of another; the relief in one is mirrored by struggles elsewhere. This removes it from the "picking yourself up again after some setback" formula we've all encountered before, because we are allowed to see lives that don't have fast ups and downs determined by artificially imposed story pacing. Instead, the lives in 'My Real Children' have long periods of struggle (or contentment). The ups and downs of story mood do not determine the ups and downs of plot events as artificially as they do in other sagas - when the pacing of the novel requires a mood change, we simply switch into a different reality. These lives are somehow more realistic and authentic because of that.
Meanwhile, some fascinating stuff is going on in the background: world history and political developments don't quite match our own. It is quite rare to encounter alternative history that doesn't have a singular point of digression (what if X had turned out differently), but which winds and turns through the same century in sometimes familiar, sometimes surprisingly alternative ways. We know we're in different worlds because of the way the Kennedy Presidency ends - but it does not feel as if Kennedy is really the trigger for all the changes that come after.
There are many things to love about this book: the ideas, the well-thought out treatment of Alzheimers and mortality in general, the elements of alternative history, the way a life-saga has been subverted into something rewarding, original and interesting... but perhaps the most compelling is the character of Patricia (and the people she loves): there is a fundamental, deeply embedded kindness to her, and a huge resilience. There are genuinely difficult periods (early Trisha chapters were painful to read), but even at her most oppressed, she has the ability to focus on the things she can do and the problems she can sort out. She is never given to depression, or to brooding with despair, even when her self confidence is badly damaged for a long period of time. Best of all, she never comes across as a 'Polyanna' - she feels like a real person who happens to be a good one. Kindness, resilience, open-mindedness and a sort of matter-of-fact approach to everything that happens - there is a kernel of positivity and something of the good egg about her. Unlike other life saga heroes, she isn't simple, but an intelligent woman, presented with different opportunities in her different lives. She makes the book very easy to love indeed. And she's not the only good egg in this novel.
Unfortunately, the final chapter is... well, I found it disappointing and far too simple for the novel that precedes it. It ties things up and rounds them off and feels quite out-of-place and forced to me. Until that chapter, my suspension of disbelief was never in doubt, and then it fell apart.
... but it's still an excellent novel. 4.5/5 stars, as far as I'm concerned.
I can see this book no being for everyone as, although it's beautifully written, it is very much told - not surprising as it spans about 65 years twice over. There are moments when we're brought in close and these are always essential and wonderfully evoked. I found myself equally involved in each of the MCs possible lives rather than annoyed with one and desperate to read the other. Walton does creditable job of balancing both story lines and the plot hangs together well.
One of the minor themes is that even a life that is not happy can be emotionally fulfilling with the right mindset - there are small moments of joy to be gathered everywhere if you know where to look. A much more major theme is how one choice may become a pivotal point and affect an entire life; following this with the way that all lives are interconnected and each person touches and shapes many other people's lives consciously and unconsciously in a cascade effect that means that a fairly trivial decision on a global scale may seem epic on a personal one - and may well have far reaching global consequences. 'No man is an island...'
This isn't really sci-fi or fantasy, more slipstream or alternate history. The way the details were woven in was exquisite. Basically I sat down and devoured this in one go. Both lives are essentially ordinary if unconventional and full of personal drama but turned and contrasted this way there is nothing run-of-the-mill about them.
This is one for people who enjoy quiet, deep thinks. I'll definitely be looking up some of Walton's other works.
My only concern is that I'm around the same age as Jo Walton, and I'm not sure how much this book would appeal to a younger generation. Both this and Walton's previous book, Among Others, have a slightly nostalgic air about them. I loved them, and my mother (who is 82) loved them, but my niece (who is 13) was profoundly uninterested. The book is about how people deal with life's rich tapestry, and I think people who have a lot of said tapestry to look back through will enjoy it more than those who are just starting out.