Review of My Real Children by Jo Walton

Since I spoke ill of My Real Children in my Hugo Awards Post-Mortem, my review is below. It’s not that I hated it; in fact, I quite liked it. But I don’t think it is award-worthy, and I think it is a good example of the sort of thing that gets nominated and shouldn’t—a work by a well liked author that is well written but rather than be subversive in any way, merely reflects the orthodoxies of the sort of people who make up the bulk of the Hugo voters. (I didn’t read What Makes This Book So Great, but I do love Walton’s essays on books and reading. One of my complaints about the Hugo Awards process is how little it is about the books; I don’t think I can ever fault Walton for not caring enough about books.)

My Real Children is an odd, interesting take. It’s the story of one woman’s two lives, set up by casting her as an old woman, suffering from dementia but definitely remembering two discrete lives. There is a central question there, but it’s one the book leaves for the conclusion so I won’t give it away here. We work our way from a point in the main character’s childhood just before the split, seeing the turning point when she is faced with a marriage proposal, and on from there as two separate lives unfold.

My Real Children

My Real Children is the sort of book in which nothing much happens. Little is done with the central conceit. That, in and of itself, is not fatal. Walton is, after all, a talented writer. But this sort of thing is necessarily character driven. Walton’s main character, if an individual, is of a sort both boring and predictable in their views—the sort who sit around decrying the evils of privatization and opining that the Russians are no worse than the Americans. It’s not a view given toward introspection and critical thought, given that one already holds all the correct conclusions, which really saps the story of something it sorely needs. And it dulls the two lives. One is what that sort of person might envision as their perfect life, while in public affairs the world goes to their hell. The other is just the opposite: the world moves toward a not realistic utopia while her personal life goes to pot (pretty much anyone would think this life awful, although I’m not sure that many people get pregnant every time they have sex).

It doesn’t kill the book, though, given its strengths. This isn’t a book about books, but Walton’s obvious love shines through nonetheless. My Real Children is at its best when its characters grapple with disability, or showing the humiliation of dementia. A relationship between lesbians is as nuanced and real as depiction of a male homosexual is denigrating and trite. Walton’s easy prose is sneakily beautiful.

3/5 Stars.

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About H.P.

Blogs on speculative fiction books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.
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