Morwenna likes to drink water. Her favorite thing in the world is inter-library loan. She doesn't like tea, orange juice, and certainly not champagne. She doesn't like people and prefers the company of fairies and science fiction--both of which seem to be a rather exclusive, if not an esoteric, pursuit. While there is nothing wrong with these personality traits, I share a few, neither are they interesting enough to justify writing a book about. After reading Among Others I feel certain Morwenna wouldn't like apple juice, cool-aid, or Armagnac. Morwenna likes to drink water. She is willfully the most boring person alive.
But she doesn't have to be.
Walton chose to write a book about science fiction. She discusses other books and authors in the genre up until 1980. There is nothing wrong with such a book, and I think it would be welcomed among that community of readers, but why she chose to do so under the guise of fiction is beyond me. More so than the book discussion--which was genuinely interesting from time to time--is the fact that Walton chose to write a novel out of what should have been a readers guide to SF with absolutely no conflict or tension to speak of. It's not that the conflict is subtle or heavily cloaked: it ain't there. This absence of conflict is exacerbated by lovely prose about trite day-to-day occurrences and vague hints in directions of interest that are never developed or explored.
Morwenna can see fairies, but please, don't expect a story out of that. She was involved in an accident that killed her twin sister, at which point Morweena assumed her sister's name, and she has been left with a ruined leg and a cane; but for some reason we don't need to make a story out of that either. After meeting her father and feeling indifferent she brushes off a drunken incident where he tries to force himself on her, but let's not introduce anything that could be misconstrued as an interesting launching point at this time in the story. The accident that claimed her sister and leg was brought on by her allegedly mad mother, who is a witch, but surely that wouldn't be fun to talk about either.
After running away from her crazy mother, she goes to stay with her estranged father and his three sisters, who are also witches and manipulating their brother. (No story there either...) She goes to a private school and resolutely resist making friends or socializing in any way, until she 'magically' works her way into a book club. I don't mean this as a joke, but to those who have read the book: does any of this sound interesting yet? Am I being faithful in regards to what the book is about? Everything is so casually mentioned as to not resonate: 'Today I did some lame ass magic,' 'I followed around the ghost of my sister,' 'I went to sleep masturbating about Wim (a horrible diminutive of William).' (Okay, actually when she said that I was startled--heart skipped two beats; primarily because that part woke me up and I learned Morwenna has a pulse... ) Nothing in Morwenna's life matters to her and in the narrative she conveys it as such. It sure doesn't matter the reader.
Over the course of about a year she does manage to grow and develop some, first in the friends she resents having, the book club, a boyfriend, and ultimately finding purpose and direction in her life as opposed to joining her deceased sister, but here is nothing in this journey to the end that warrants a novel.
Morwenna is perhaps the hardest part of this book to deal with. If you love SF from the time period involved you'll probably find much to enjoy or happily reminiscence , if not expect to be excluded from about a hundred pages worth of writing in this book. About of third of the novel. Morwenna is also the most condescending, high-and-mighty person ever depicted on the page. (And to this achievement Walton is to be commended: well done.) I have three post-its full of quotes to this effect but there was one at the end that summed it all up so nicely. "I looked at him. He was rarer than a unicorn, a beautiful boy in a red-checked shirt who read and thought and talked about books." She is far more shallow than those she aggressively mocks and equally unwelcoming of those who aren't like her. There isn't much she's not better than.
The writing is clean, clear, and very pleasing to read. I only wish there was something remotely resembling a story to go along with it. The ending doesn't fizzle out because what precedes the ending never built up to anything. The book could have ended on any page--any page--to the exact same effect. I feel it pertinent to say: I'm not condemning this book. It's not bad and I'd never tell someone that it is, merely, I've no idea why one would choose to read it, or what compelled Walton to set out on the surely arduous task of writing it.