Review Blog

Nov 06 2014

My real children by Jo Walton

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Constable & Robinson, 2014. ISBN 9781472119728
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Jo Walton has written a number of fantasy and sci-fi novels, as well as role-playing scenarios. This novel, about Patricia/Patsy/Pat/Trish, shows the influence of role-playing in the plot, but is otherwise a realistic look at the possible lives of women in the decades from 1930's to this century. The strongest writing describes the childhood and youth of Patricia Cowan, a bright and devout little girl who grows up in a sheltered working class home loving her father and the annual seaside holiday. The war years bring all that to a close. The loss of loved ones as well as the deprivation of that time is clearly captured. A scholarship to Oxford offers a bright future and her engagement to a talented scholar, Mark, seems to promise happiness as well. At this point the author suggests two possible futures to Patsy, one as the wife of a teacher, one as an unmarried teacher herself. As in Lionel Shriver' Post birthday world this divergence allows an exploration different lives and social forces. The married Patsy finds her husband has little interest in sex, which is fortunate as he does not believe in contraception. She has very painful experiences in childbirth and several life-threatening miscarriages. Her husband is a bitter and demeaning man who has no understanding of or interest in her life. After the four children have grown she discovers that he is a homosexual and they divorce. She makes a life for herself as a teacher and a busy committee woman. The unmarried Patsy becomes a passionate scholar of the Italian Renaissance and writes guidebooks to Italian cities. She loves a woman and with the help of a friend they have several children. Her life is successful and happy, but she suffers from the lack of legal support for single woman and for gays.  The reader is given glimpses of political and social changes in the backgrounds to both stories. For some reason the background to the difficult life is as it happened, the Cuban missile crisis is resolved and so on. However, in the background to the happier life world events take a dark turn. Thousands are killed in various missile blasts, and a number of the main characters die from cancers. The stories are brought together in the nursing home where Patricia, now with dementia, ends her years remembering both versions of her life. Both stories move quickly and are successful in capturing the social milieux of those years and the diverging roles of women. The novel could be compared with the Post birthday world, and On Chesil beach by Ian McEwan.
Jenny Hamilton

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