I have mixed feelings about Among Others by Jo Walton. On one hand I did like it as the book lover in me adores it for what it set out to do – create a character that uses books to defeat a villain. On the other hand…I dunno, I wanted more.
The story follows Mori, a 15-year-old, book-loving, introvert with a crippled leg. She attends a private school where she has been sent by a father and two aunts she barely knows. She does her best to live as under the radar as she can, navigating school dynamics and other people but she is a child of magic and so her life is anything but normal (her ability to connect with magic also allows her to see fairies). Through memories we discover why Mori has become crippled in one leg and why she fears her mother so much. The story heads toward the final showdown between Mori and her mother and it is for this reason alone that I held on to the story for so long. Mori, a character so quiet and introverted, was going to battle her dark arts loving mother. I was really interested in seeing how Mori would act, react and what parts of herself would she have to dig down deep for.
Well…she didn’t have to dig too deep. Or if she did, I certainly didn’t get that reading it. The showdown was somewhat of a let down – quick and non-threatening. While there was tension building towards the confrontation – once the battle ensued it quickly dissipated.
There was one cool part of the battle that is worth mentioning though. Mori’s mother tries to use books as weapons against her but Mori knows that when you “love books, they love you back” and so Mori is able to turn the tide of battle through the books she loves so much. As a book lover I get this, I understand this and can profess my love to the author for describing that love of books so well.
So my confliction with this book is that I didn’t dislike it nor did I love it. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. Is that a fair review?
This book is written in the first person in a very dream-like flow. We are privy to Mori’s inner thoughts throughout the entire book. She is a girl who has been influenced by the books she has read – her favourites being fantasy and sci-fi. The story is simple and very matter of fact. I appreciated the understatedness of Mori’s voice and personality. She isn’t particularly charismatic or even likeable at times which makes her very realistic.
The author is obviously a book lover herself due to the constant referencing of book after book in this story. While nice at first it quickly became exhausting. The risk of referencing as many books as Jo Walton has in a story, is that you unintentionally alienate the reader at times. I have not read most of the books the author mentions and I found myself looking up certain things she was writing about. In one particular scene Mori becomes excited when she realizes she has created a karass for herself. I immediately had to look this up – it was obvious it was from a story but which one? Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is now on my list of things to read thanks to this story but this isn’t necessarily a good thing (Gasp! You haven’t read Cat’s Cradle?!?!?). I don’t think the author was making assumptions that the reader has read all the books she has as it’s just obvious she loves reading. However as another lover of reading, it got frustrating. What is Mori talking about? What book is she referencing now? Was the constant starting and stopping to look up a book that I haven’t read the author’s fault or is it mine?
(Most likely mine due to my obsession with books but I do think Mori’s love of books could have come across without the incessant referencing of stories.)
Mori views books as living, breathing, feeling things and once the book was finished I asked myself – what did this living, breathing book in my hands want to be? I think this story wanted to be more, to give more, to tell more but the story got stuck inside the head of the author and couldn’t quite get out. I say this because so much of this book managed to leak bits of beauty. Certain parts of the story would build with energy only to deflate with a turn of the page – it was over too soon. I could almost see the fairies and what they looked like. I could almost see and feel the heat of the battle. In fact, there is a lot of ‘could almost’ in this story. In the end there wasn’t enough descriptive power to satisfy my wants as a reader which is why this story, for me is good and not great. Is that selfish of me as a reader? To want more from the story? If, like Mori, I believe that books and stories are living things then do I have that right to demand more from them? Are you thinking what I’m thinking in that I need to take a shot of tequila and just relax?
When you live exclusively inside your head and in the world of books (like Mori) you miss out on the world and the experiences that help you define it. While the author has my respect and thanks for writing a story for the book lovers of the world, Mori doesn’t have enough experience outside of herself to describe what she sees clearly enough. That is the risk of living in the mind. You have a harder time relating what you see to others. The result is a story that moves too fast in the moments where Mori interacts with others and too slow when stuck in Mori’s thoughts. Is this intentional? Is the author so good that she does a spot on job of making the reader experience the inner, cool, detached life and emotions of Mori?
As you can see, I have a lot of questions and I need to take a break from messing with my own mind, but in the end the fact that the story is an obvious love letter to books makes it worth the read.