Nataliya's Reviews > My Real Children

My Real Children by Jo Walton
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bookshelves: 2014-reads
Recommended to Nataliya by: Algernon (Darth Anyan)

It all comes down to a choice.

Sixty years ago Patricia Cowan received an angry ultimatum that pushed her onto the crossroads of life. 'Now or never!' the angry voice demanded.

“Oh Mark,” she said. “If it’s to be now or never then—"

And without much hesitation, Patricia chose "now".
Or maybe, without much hesitation, she firmly chose "never".

And each of these choices sent her life spiraling down a completely different path, these path diverging so steeply. A life of love and a life or loneliness, a world of peace and a world of wars, the lives filled with very different - and yet all hers, all real - children.
“She was just an old woman with memory problems. Or maybe two old women with memory problems. She laughed to herself. She was herself, whether she was Pat or Trish. They knew different things and cared about different people, but she was the same person she had always been. She was the girl who had stood before the sea in Weymouth and in Barrow-in-Furness, the woman who had stood before Botticelli and before hostile council meetings. It didn’t matter what they called her, Patricia or Patsy or Trish or Pat. She was herself. She had loved Bee, and Florence, and all her children.”
Now almost ninety, Patricia Cowan no longer needs to wonder what would have happened if the choice she had made many decades ago had been different. Now frail and living in a nursing home, suffering from dementia and usually "very confused" as her chart states, she knows exactly what would have had happened - or, perhaps, simply what had happened - in both of her lives, as she is suddenly plagued with the knowledge that she lives in two different worlds, with two different - and both very real - sets of memories.

Jo Walton's My Real Children is another of those stories that have very little of sci-fi vibe to them despite being put under my favorite genre umbrella. Its unusual premise - living two parallel lives side by side - is perfect for the gentle description of a life lived, with its regrets and consequences and quiet happy moments and heartbreaking times that relentlessly slice through your soul. Two lives that yet read as one, each spun as a gentle chronicle, flying first through years, then through decades, each showing a tapestry of what eventually each thread of life weaves. Two lives, so different from one another, but both leading us to the Patricia Cowan of today, almost ninety and confused in the nursing home, inhabiting one - or both - of the worlds that are a bit different from the one we know, one with a peaceful research station on the moon, another with nuclear missiles pointed at us from the moon.
“She had made a choice already, one choice that counted among the myriad choices of her life. She had made it not knowing where it led. Could she made it again, knowing?
She sat down carefully on the edge of the bed and looked up at the blur that was one moon or the other. How many worlds were there? One? Two? An infinite number? Was there a world where she could have both happiness and peace?”
This book started with me a bit confused - why is it sci-fi, why is it this way, why is it just a story of life (or lives) without much else happening? But as the story continued, I realized that Walton's storytelling has completely captivated me, that the development of the characters of both Patricias resonated with me on some intangible level, and that the spirit and rhythm of narration created a gentle charm of literary magic that was unwilling to let me shrug it off any more. Very subtly it immersed me into the story, and before I knew it I was living it, seeing the world through both Pat's and Trish's eyes, and feeling the unexpected love and kinship with both of the women. And I loved it.

And that closing chapter, tying everything together - it made me catch my breath for a moment, and ponder about my own choices, and made me so grateful that, unlike Patricia, I can only see one road I've taken in life.

4.5/5 stars.
“She felt again the Bakelite of the receiver in her hand and heard Mark’s voice in her ear. “Now or never!”
Now or never, Trish or Pat, peace or war, loneliness or love?
She wouldn’t have been the person her life had made her if she could have made any other answer.”

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Reading Progress

November 2, 2014 – Shelved
November 19, 2014 – Started Reading
November 23, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Ksenia (new) - added it

Ksenia Great review, Nataliya!

Nataliya Ksenia wrote: "Great review, Nataliya!"

Thanks, Ksenia.

message 3: by Ivonne (new) - added it

Ivonne Rovira Adore the review! And thank you for pointing me to a book I never, ever would have stumbled upon otherwise.

Algernon (Darth Anyan) Excellent summary, as usual. Patricia is a memorable lead, and I still think about her journey through life, several months after finishing the book.

now, I hope the new Ben Aaronovich novel will also be a highlight of the year, like Walton.

Nataliya Ivonne wrote: "Adore the review! And thank you for pointing me to a book I never, ever would have stumbled upon otherwise."

Thanks, Ivonne!

message 6: by Nataliya (last edited Nov 28, 2014 05:20PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nataliya Algernon wrote: "Excellent summary, as usual. Patricia is a memorable lead, and I still think about her journey through life, several months after finishing the book.

now, I hope the new Ben Aaronovich novel will ..."

Thanks, Algernon. I loved Patricia as a character - in both incarnations. And now I definitely think of myself as Jo Walton's fan. Her approach to sci-fi (from the two books of hers that I've read, 'Among Others' and this one) is interesting, with both books pretty firmly grounded in the 'real' reality, with just a dab of magical realism. It works very well, and I'm definitely planning to read more by her.

As for Aaronovitch - his book was very entertaining indeed.

message 7: by Gutka (new)

Gutka very godd answer

Tracy What a wonderful review. Just started reading this and I'm loving it.

message 9: by J. (new) - added it

J. Thank you so much, Nataliya! You whetted my appetite to read this intriguing story.

message 10: by Ivonne (new) - added it

Ivonne Rovira What an enchanting review!

Nataliya Ivonne wrote: "What an enchanting review!"


message 12: by Paula (new)

Paula Merwin I loved this book! I loved Among Others too - Mori is delightful and the brushing if fantasy with reality delicately done. But All My Chikdren was awe-inspiring! What a talent! I was so moved by the parallel stories and cried at the end. Epic!

message 13: by Lara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lara I agree - I don’t get the sci fi label. To me, this is as sci fi as Outlander.

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