Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton

The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around.

Sometimes, there are books that stare straight into my heart and soul and reflect them back. For me, this was one of those. There is probably no such thing as a perfect book; Among Others, however, was exactly the right book at the right time, and that is not something to be underestimated. It rekindled my appreciation and love for libraries, it spoke a lot of my truths, and it allowed me to remember my sixteen and seventeen year old self with more compassion and understanding than I’ve ever managed. So, obviously, this review is enormously biased and I am well aware that this book may not be for everyone.

It’s 1979. Mor, who has lived her whole life in the Welsh Valleys surrounded by a varied and sprawling family, among fairies and wilderness and magic, has been forced to live with her (somewhat useless) English father whom she has never met and who promptly sends her to boarding school. Her twin sister is dead, her mother is mad and possibly evil, and she is alone. Among Others is written as a diary, as Mor turns to books and journalling, observing the world around her with sharp eyes and a certain dry humour while trying to make sense of what happened, what is happening, and how to move on. The fairy/magic aspect of the world is some of the most convincingly real that I have ever come across; odd and earthy and tied to the landscape, relating to the “real world” in strange ways. Mor is an unreliable narrator in the way that most grieving people are, and the story just… unfolds. Slow, unhurried, and yet still at times shocking, heartrending and heartwarming. If I was told tomorrow that I was only allowed one book for the rest of my life, it would be a close call between Among Others, Unquenchable Fire, and the dictionary (but which dictionary?!).

Rating: Read this book. Go to the library.

Review: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

I fell in love with this book. It was rather akin to a tidal wave in my heart; rearing up, surging through me and then subsiding and leaving everything rearranged and shockingly quiet. Arundhati Roy has an enviable skill with words: she can make seemingly ordinary words create extraordinary images. Sentences such as ‘The sky rested its elbows on the river’ have haunted me. The settings are so vivid and so tangled with the plot that they sprawl into each other and become tricky to tell apart. This is a story that is rooted absolutely in its surroundings, that could not happen in another time or place, and yet it resonates on a universal level.

At the beginning, we already know that everything will fall apart. Somehow. Rahel is returning to the family home, years after the event, to be reunited with her twin Estha. Piece by piece we are introduced to their fragmented family, viewing them from different angles and different ages until we start to see how all their sharp edges and soft curves fit together into something like a stained glass window. The time moves between present and past, revealing memories and family history, circumstance and politics and personal vendettas all of which funnel into and spread out from this one pivotal moment. Even nearing the end, I still could not anticipate quite what it was that would happen. I was kept guessing.

It is not an overstatement to call this novel a masterpiece. In fact, it is hard for me to review because really I just want to tell everyone I know to read this book. Everyone I meet in fact. Your life will be richer for reading it. The God of Small Things is a rare treasure, and there is not much more I can say on it. Read it, and be swept away…