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Book Report: My Real Child

I enjoyed Jo Walton's My Real Child enormously. I found it sweet, absorbing and problematic; I didn't want it to end.

The end was always going to be a problem, wasn't it? When a novel is told, more or less, in flashback from the point of view of an elderly person with Alzheimer's-related dementia, eventually that's going to be a problem. And in this book, where the tension between two stories—two versions of a life, and a world that life takes place within—is the primary narrative tension, well, there is no satisfactory way of resolving it, is there? If there were, the book wouldn't work as well. I didn't want the book to end because I wanted to stay and spend more time with the folk in the book, yes, but also because I knew I would be disappointed in the ending, no matter what.

The central theme—well, the theme I think is central, anyway—is very meta: it's an alternate history story where the alternate history barely matters. The difference in war, politics, and scientific progress are peripheral to the main character's life. They do affect it—I will refrain from plot spoilers, I suppose, but World Events make a difference in the lives of our friends only indirectly, and often well after the fact. As they often do in my own life—the most closely the destruction of the World Trade Center has touched me, for instance, has been years after, when friends have been arrested for things that wouldn't have drawn notice beforehand. Portraying that sort of thing is a critique of the Great Man focus that alternate-history stories often take, and of the Great Man stories that we tell ourselves about the actual world. I'd call it an inherently feminist argument, but it's more than that; it's a critique of the reach of politics in general. And while I'm not altogether in agreement with it, it's a powerful one.

All of which lies underneath a terrific book about people that I enjoyed spending time with.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,