My Real Children by Jo Walton is an alternate reality story, where the main character has two possible lives which are told in alternate chapters. I have to say straight away, I love alternate realities stories, they get me every time. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite books of all time, also in this genre is Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again, which is a ripper, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde had a literary twist, and then there are my favourite movies – Sliding Doors and Groundhog Day. I love that the characters in these stories usually get the opportunity to make things right again after other people’s (or their own) stuff-ups.
My Real Children is a worthy addition to my list of favourite alternate reality stories.
Patricia Cowan is the character in My Real Children who gets two cracks at life. She grew up in England and went to Oxford during World War 2, where she studied hard and met Mark, who provides the moment where her life splits into two distinct futures. As an old lady, living with dementia in a nursing home, Patricia is aware that she has two sets of memories and present day realities, but the problem is, she doesn’t know which of the two sets of memories are true.
Mark provided the tipping point for Patricia when he asked her to marry him, using the term “now or never.” When Patricia answered “Now,” she married Mark, became ‘Trish’ and had a family of four children. Her marriage was unhappy, but eventually she became active in a number of causes dear to her heart. The world she lived in as Trish is similar to the world we know, although I have to admit to laughing out loud when there was a reference to Prince Charles and Princess Camilla, around 1974.
When Patricia answered Mark’s proposal with “Never,” she became ‘Pat.’ As Pat, she fell in love with Italy, and eventually with Bee, had a family of three children, and a large and happy circle of friends. Although Pat’s personal life was happier that Trish’s, the wider world she lived in is much sadder, as nuclear wars became a reality. Reading this made me realise that in our actual world we have escaped events with terrible outcomes by the skin of our teeth.
The story started slowly, but is well told and by the end I found the book very difficult to put down. Eventually I sat up late one night to finish the book, but in an alternate reality, I would have stopped reading and gone to bed at a reasonable hour, then woke up feeling better refreshed. Or, twenty years ago, I would have stopped eating chocolate and taken up exercise, and would now own a different sized wardrobe. The possibilities are endless…
The ending of the story is ambiguous, which was frustrating. If anyone else has read My Real Children, I’d love for them to tell me what they think happened next. What a choice…
Anyway, I am certain that there will be many more Jo Walton books in my future, however many futures there are.