Thursday 28 August 2014

My Real Children by Jo Walton

The day Mark called, Patricia Cowan's world split in two.
The phone call.
His question.
Her answer.
A single word.
It is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. 'Confused today' read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War - those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and.her memory splits in two.
She was Trish, a housewife and mother of four.
She was Pat, a successful travel writer and mother of three.
She remembers living her life as both women, so very clearly. Which memory is real - or are both just tricks of time and light?
My Real Children is the story of both of Patricia Cowan's lives - each with its loves and losses, sorrows and triumphs, its possible consequences. It is a novel about how every life means the entire world.

My Real Children by Jo Walton was published in the UK on 21 August 2014 by Corsair (Constable & Robinson).

Let's start with the publisher's press release for My Real Children; "perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife and Ursula K Le Guin ...". So really, that should rule me out. I haven't read Life After Life, I hated The Time Traveller's Wife and I've never heard of Ursula K Le Guin.  The press release goes on to say ... " writes science fiction and fantasy novels ....". Well, that's me out again. When anyone asks me what I like to read, I always say anything except science fiction and fantasy. So why did I read this book? First; I love the cover, second; the blurb is fascinating, and third; I didn't read the full press release before I started the book. I'm glad that I didn't because I absolutely adored this book. It's fabulous, I love it, and now I want to read everything else that Jo Walton has written.

For me, this is a story that is unique and original and beautiful. It's intriguing and it's confusing, yet it is filled with emotion and passion and characters who are forward-thinking and beyond the norm, yet are realistically portrayed.

The opening chapter finds Patricia Cowan in a nursing home, she's old and confused, some days she is very confused. The rest of the book is made up of Patricia's memories, yet her memories are not of one life and one set of children, but of two women, Trish and Pat, with two lives and two sets of children. Trish and Pat tell their own individual, very different stories in alternate chapters and this starts after Patricia makes the biggest decision of her life.

That really is the crux of this story; how one decision, one answer, can shape a whole lifetime, and the lives of those who come next. How generations of one family can be formed because of what one single person decided to do.

Who is Patricia? Is she Trish, or is she Pat? Was she married with a family, a supply teacher and homemaker, or was she a bohemian travel writer, fighting for her rights and determined to live her life as she wants to? Both of these women have a wonderfully intricate story to tell and Jo Walton has so cleverly created two hugely different lives.

Yes, there is a dash of science fiction and fantasy in there, but it's not aliens and spaceships (although a trip to the Moon does feature), this is more Orwellian than that with glimpses of a possible future, and of things that could have happened, but didn't.

It all sounds terribly confusing doesn't it? It really isn't, it's a portrait of a woman who made a decision, but it is also a portrait of that woman making the opposite decision.

Jo Walton writes with subtlety and passion. She challenges the reader, she makes the reader think about the consequences of decisions made, she poses questions, she tackles age-old issues. She does all of this quite beautifully. If this is science-fiction/fantasy, then I'm converted.

Huge thanks to Grace from Corsair who sent my copy of My Real Children for review.

Jo Walton writes science fiction and fantasy novels and reads a lot and eats great food. It worries her slightly that this is so exactly what she always wanted to do when she grew up. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal. Her novel Among Others won the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2012 and she has also won the John W Campbell Award and World Fantasy Award for other works.

For more information about Jo Walton, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @BlueJoWalton


  1. Sounds great, very tempting - really wouldn't see this as your usual read Anne but good to hear you enjoyed something a touch other wordly for a change.

  2. I'll have to look out for this one Anne! Thank you.