A love letter to science fiction and fantasy, to books and to librarians:
“We never looked anything like anyone in our family, but apart from the eye and hair color I don’t see anything. It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.”
A support letter to adolescence, and to girls alienated from their families:
“So then I realised guiltily how my very presence in his car was actually a huge reproach. For one thing, there is only one of me, when he abandoned twins. For another, I am crippled. Thirdly, I am there at all; I ran away. I had to ask for his help–and worse, I had to use the social services to ask for his help. Clearly, the arrangements he made for us were far from adequate. In fact, my existence there at that moment demonstrated to him that he is a rotten parent.”
and to girls alienated from their schools:
“If the school was going out of their way to try to detach us from magic, they couldn’t organize things better. I wonder if that was someone’s original intention… We don’t have our own plates, or our own knives and forks or cups. Like most of what we use, they’re communal, they’re handed out at random. There’s no chance for anything to become imbued, to come alive through fondness. Nothing here is aware, no chair, no cup. Nobody can get fond of anything.”
Walton’s writing is astonishing; it impeccably captures the voice of a 15 year old Welsh girl, Morwenna Markova, after she is sent to England to live with her estranged father and then immediately dispatched to boarding school. Books have been a life-long source of enjoyment and solace, and sustain her through the loss of her twin. She is both naive and worldly, with that bookish sort of experience that is not backed by the experience of real life:
“A Polish Jew! I am part Polish. Part Jewish? All that I know about Judaism comes from A Canticle for Leibowitz and Dying Inside. Well, and the Bible, I suppose.”
Fans of fantasy and science fiction will love the multitudes of references to genre classics, from LeGuin to McCaffrey to Zelazny and Vonnegut. Literary references are veiled–Mor and her sister call factory near them Mordor, as it “looked like something from the depths of hell, black and looming with chimneys of flame”–and overt–Mor frequently interprets the world according to authors she has read: “Robert Heinlein says in Have Spacesuit, Will Travel that the only things worth studying are history, languages, and science.” Librarians become allies in Mor’s adjustment to England, and through them, she discovers other like-minded souls.
However, there is also something about the writing that is distancing, perhaps because of Mor’s own emotional distance, perhaps because the narrative about the fairies is enigmatic, or perhaps because the overtones of fear in dealing with her mother that aren’t realized. Whatever it was, it prevents me from that emotional connection that characterizes my five-star reads.
Walton is an interesting writer, and is content to leave questions lying around, unanswered. If you are the sort of reader that likes wrapping with neat bows, this may not suit you. Still it is intriguing, and will undoubtedly win a second or third full read down the road.
Quite a surprise, and one of the more unusual pieces I’ve read. Four unreliable stars.