Among Others began as the book that made me think I was reading about my life. For years I've heard others talk about books like these because the events in the story are so similar to their own lives. I thought, "I've found it! I've finally found it!" but as the story fell into a lack-of-progression, I found myself feeling more and more distant from Morwenna and her life.
This book is a comfort when it comes to Morwenna conversing with faeries and performing magic to protect herself and her loved ones. It is a comfort and a challenge when it comes to the opinions of the characters on all the SF books and authors referenced. If you agree, you'll turn the pages with delight. If you disagree, you'll probably go "Wait, what? HOW can you think that about Heinlein?" And if you haven't read the SF they discuss, you might feel left out.
Mor is a compelling narrator. She's lost her twin sister, she walks with a cane due to a car accident she suffered while thwarting her mother's magic meant to take over the world, she talks to faeries, and she reads eight books a week. She is fiercely observant because she knows her survival depends on how well she can read and trust others. Because of her damaged leg she must walk with a cane, and she is often an outcast at her all girls boarding school; she's not afraid to deflect some of that teasing by letting her classmates know she is an evil witch.
When Morwenna finds a group of like minded people in the form of an SF book club at the town library, it seems like she has found the right group of people to guide her, intellectually, on her quest to destroy her mother (who is projecting herself into Mor's room at night in attempts to kill her), but that subplot ends up focusing on a cute boy. That is where the book really lost me. Something was off about Wim. I hated the way he talked about how stupid his former girlfriends were. I've seen that type of behavior in real life, and it always comes from people who can't admit they also had a hand in things that went wrong in the relationship.
Too much of the plot is pushed aside for Mor's relationship with Wim. While the ending is rewarding, it wraps up far too quickly in the last 10 pages. Mor comes to all sorts of conclusions that built up over the course of the novel, but were once again overshadowed by her (boring) feelings for Wim.
Among Others is a story about identity. Like any good fantasy novel, it is about the power of words and names. The story is full of confused identities--the three aunts she can't tell apart, the father she doesn't know and his Jewish father whose religion she possibly longs for, and Morwenna, who isn't the girl she says she is. Yet, in the end, none of these identities matter very much. Walton opens many threads she not only doesn't close, she doesn't go anywhere with them. It makes for an unsatisfactory story; I was left with a lot of worry when I think I was supposed to feel comfort.
What redeems the book for me are the spaces Mor inhabits. Mor mentions a heterotopic society in a discussion about Delany's book Triton. Unfamiliar with the word, I looked it up and spent some time researching the subject. It's tough to explain so you'll have to look it up, but I think it is an important part of the narrative because the spaces Mor is in most of the time are heterotopic spaces--spaces both physical and mental that shape the way you relate to something. The library is a heterotopia because it exists at a certain time when things from different periods are able to be stored and preserved; the books there range from ancient to hot off the presses, and time cannot change them--the objects in a library only continue to gather as time passes. Books are physical, bot the words are not, as Mor says on more than one occasion; the words are on the page and in our minds, making them real and unreal. When we read, we inhabit a space exists as the book in our hands and the story in our minds that shapes us and our view of the world. It's a complicated concept that I'm not sure I even understand. Philosophers might read this and laugh, but this is what I took away from the book.