Thursday, 7 April 2016

book review: My Real Children

Jo Walton.
My Real Children.
Corsair. 2014

Patricia Cowan is an old woman, forgetful, consigned to a nursing home at the end of her life. The staff note that she is “confused”; she can’t seem to remember the simplest things: which way to turn out of her door, who her children are, any of her life. But that’s not just because of her forgetfulness: she has two sets of memories, and keeps slipping between them. In one, she has a life where she said yes to Mark’s marriage proposal, in the other she has a very different life after she said no. Which life is real?

Walton weaves two very different life histories for her central character, based on a single turning point. Patricia’s life is profoundly affected, as are the lives of people she does, or does not, interact with. Most importantly, to Patricia, are her resulting children: two very different sets, one from each life, both loved. Which children are real? But also, in the background, we see there are two very different world (neither our own), one tending to utopia, the other to doom. Which world is real?

Although it is clear how Patricia’s choice affects her own life, and the lives of those close to her, it is not made clear how it affects the rest of the world, although it is implied that it does: presumably it is some sort of butterfly effect, changing remote people’s decisions. No matter; this is a skilfully drawn and deeply moving portrait of two very different people who are in fact the same person in different circumstances. Patricia’s second, shattering, choice at the end of her life had me reading through strangely misted vision.

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