- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; First edition (May 19 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 076533268X
- ISBN-13: 978-0765332684
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.2 x 21.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 281 g
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #536,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
My Real Children Paperback – May 19 2015
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"Two period dramas for the price of one, told through the science fictional conceit of alternate realities…All of this is rendered with Walton's usual power and beauty."―The New York Times Book Review
"My Real Children is a quiet triumph."―Publishers Weekly
"Walton is a straightforward, unsparing writer, and she strikes a poignant balance between the ideas of agency and fate. Science fiction elements add an eerie complexity to these deeply felt portraits."―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
JO WALTON won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002, and the World Fantasy Award for her novel Tooth and Claw in 2004. Her several other novels include the acclaimed Small Change alternate-history trilogy, comprising Farthing, Ha'penny, and Half a Crown. Her novel Among Others won the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2012. She is a columnist on Tor.com. A native of Wales, she lives in Montreal.
Top customer reviews
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My Real Children‘s story opens in a British nursing home, where a nearly 90-years-old woman called Patricia suffers from dementia. She is confused by her progressive loss of short term memory, but even more so by her clear remembrance of not one, but two lives. Indeed, somewhere in her early twenties, Patricia’s life split into two branches, each leading to a completely different life and world. I found the first chapters quite captivating and the old woman attaching and moving. So far, so good.
Unfortunately, the book quickly lost my interest. It ends up being just a double biography of Patricia: the chapters alternate between the two timelines, progressing chronologically and very independently. First issue for me: the two lives are self-contained and they don’t need their counterpart. They never cast new light or trigger reflections on each other. It’s really two separate plots, taking place in different parts of the world with different characters. But what was worse was that each timeline fell into an extreme and I couldn’t really believe in them: in one timeline, Patricia is a submissive wife married to a cold and abusive man who only comes to her (with a bottle of wine) to procreate, as he insists to have more children despite her multiple miscarriages and her doctor’s recommendations to avoid new pregnancies. In the other one, she is happily united to another woman, conceives several children in the most astonishing (stupid?) way considering one of them is a biologist and should know better, and leads a life clear of troubles, totally oblivious to the very misogynous and homophobic times she was born into. The world also follows the same pattern, from socialism glory in one timeline to nuclear armageddon in the other. I felt like I was constantly swung between two caricatures.
Also, the second part of My Real Children seemed really rushed. Two lives are packed within 310 pages so obviously there are a lot of ellipses, but sometimes it felt almost like a telegraph-style sum-up of Patricia’s lives. People come and go, babies are born, people die; all in a flash. For instance, in two occurrences an important character gets sick and then the narration flatly states “it took him/her X months to die”. There’s no stopping to describe people’s pain and mourning. Everything goes on at light speed.
Finally, I was extremely disappointed by the alternate history aspect of My Real Children. The ending of the book is okay in the sense that it does provide some closure, but it won’t provide an explanation for the sudden branching in Beatrice life or the drastic differences between the two resulting worlds. It does mention once the butterfly effect but it feels like a lazy trick considering the author didn’t hint any causality whatsoever between Patricia’s choices and bigger events in the world during the rest of the book.
In the end, I was left with regret. I did like the idea behind My Real Children and I think the narration could have been much better. Maybe it was too long: in the end the detailed account of the two lives of Patricia felt like unnecessary filling. Maybe it would have made a beautiful, moving short story. But as a 310-page novel, it was far-fetched, boring and unsatisfying.
This novel has made me to change my prejudiced view of sci-fi, which I have long regarded it as comprising mostly far-fetched story lines where aliens are invading, spaceships are battling, or time machines flying… mostly unrealistic stories of escapism.
This novel clearly demonstrates that how it is possible - beautifully and movingly possible at that - to depict our real lives that are full of emotions and unforgettable memories even with one of the most common sci-fi concepts, i.e., alternate reality or parallel universe. This novel is so well-written and thoroughly thought out that defining this book as “SF novel” seems unjust and wanting.
For this novel, “SF” seems merely a disguise or an instrument; what this novel is really about seems a high-quality literary fiction that tells us a story about a woman who courageously lived and loved her life no matter what was in store for her. What a beautiful novel.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Patricia Cowan is a very old woman with dementia, but her symptoms go beyond the expected: she remembers two distinct lives, two different partners, two sets of children - who both come to visit her in two different nursing homes. This book follows her throughout both of her lives: through her childhood, to the point of divergence in 1949 (when she accepts a proposal of marriage, or doesn't), and then through alternating chapters in two increasingly different worlds. There are actually two alternate histories here - one a more peaceful and accepting version of 20th century history, the other more violent and ugly. The history plays out in the background, however, in asides while our protagonist goes through her life as either Pat or Trish.
This is a story told largely in summary, as it tries to capture all important events in two different lives in just over 300 pages. In some ways that's a strength, as Walton captures the scope of two entire lives with relatively few words. The children in particular come vividly to life with just a few deft strokes. The way the two lives unfold in counterpoint is clever and well-done, and for narrative summary, the story manages to be quite compelling. On the other hand, this technique also distances the reader from the characters, a problem particularly evident in both of Patricia's relationships. Her husband, Mark, is an awful person with no redeeming qualities (the best that can be said of him is that he doesn't actually hit her). We're told his conversation on their first meeting is scintillating, but we don't see that; what we do see is all warning signs and no charm, so it's hard to imagine why anyone would marry him. Meanwhile her partner, Bee, is a great person with no bothersome qualities, and it's hard to say anything about their relationship except that it's apparently perfect.
And sometimes the summary is rushed to the point of improbable omissions in the characters' lives: for instance, Pat and Bee don't talk about their prior sexual experience (or lack thereof) until several years into their relationship? This seems to happen not because of any reticence on their part, but rather because from the author's standpoint, they've only been together for a chapter.
As for the alternate history, I found it unsatisfying, particularly when the book indicates that the path the world takes depends on Patricia's decision. If one obscure woman's choice to marry or not is meant to determine the fate of the world within a few short years, I want to be shown how and why, not just have all explanations waved away with the words "butterfly effect."
So I am left where I so often am with Jo Walton's books: the writing is good, the ideas are great, and the story and characters have a lot of potential but would have been more effective with more development. As is, this isn't bad, but for alternate lives and possibilities I would recommend Life After Life before this - a much longer book, but for me a more memorable and satisfying one.
Honestly whether Pat or Tricia it’s very well written. You do care about her. It does get kind of boring as it winds down but again most of life gets kind of boring as it winds down- it felt like a lot of reading off a list the last years; people died, people were born, Pat did this, Tricia did that and then the kids did this and that but those books always get me. The other issue for me was she sees the split in her life as whether or not she decides to marry Mark. While I definitely agree it’s a life choice even before she married him I couldn’t see any reason why she would. Meanwhile her partner in the other life is so perfect that she handles being crippled with the kind of aplomb that could be ascribed to a saint. Not much subtly in the romantic partners so when Patricia sums up her question as which life would you chose for me I couldn’t see how there was any question which one a person would chose.