A friend asked me about this book the other day. She knows that I am into the Hugos, and she had heard people on Triple J – a radio station branding itself as the ‘youth station’ – talking about this as having won Best Novel. She said they described it as basically Harry Potter.
I imagine my reaction looked pretty funny, because I just. I can’t even. What?
Yes, there is a boarding school involved in both; yes, there is magic (…maybe?) involved in both.
But still. What?
Anyway. I loved this book. I read it so long ago that it seems a bit pointless writing anything that pretends to be a review, so I won’t – I just want to note down a few thoughts.
For all that I loved it, I did not love it as much as others. I know it resonated strongly for a lot of people because it reflected their own experiences, of The Discovery of Science Fiction especially. Mine it does not. Partly this is an age thing: Morwenna, the narrator, who tells this book via diary entries, is doing stuff on my birthday. I mean my actual birth day. So there’s that. More significantly though, it does not record my experience of discovering science fiction. In specific terms, I haven’t read most of the authors and titles Morwenna reports discovering (and there are a few I hadn’t even heard of) – I had to promise myself that I will read the novel a second time with pen in hand, to stop myself from feeling bad about not keeping a list of books to read as I read it the first time. In more general terms, this isn’t how I came to it. I started more with fantasy, and I was also reading a broader range of stuff, in my teens. I can remember one kid at my school with whom I shared an interest in speculative fiction, and we never talked about it. So… yeh. For me this reads as a fantasy both in magical terms (which I still think might not necessarily be real) but perhaps even more in the finding-of-like-minds aspects. Outside of cons (and sometimes even there, let’s be honest) I’ve rarely had the sort of experience Walton describes for Morwenna. It’d be nice though.
I really enjoyed Morwenna’s voice, and the novel worked especially well as a diary. She often sounds a bit older than she is, but I think the diary format explains that (as well as her somewhat precocious nature, and her voracious reading lending her an excellent vocabulary): it makes sense for someone like her to be experimenting with language in a private forum, and giving herself permission to push her imagination and storytelling to its fullest extent. I liked her ambiguity – about herself and in her attitudes towards her parents, friends, and school. She has very sensible reasons to be concerned on some of those fronts, especially about her mother, that do not translate to ‘real life’ – but the general feelings can, and do.
I admit that I am surprised that it won the Hugo, given its competition. Everyone seemed to think that GRRM had it sown up; in a year without that, I would have thought Mieville would win hands down, but then I adored Embassytown immensely so possibly I’m biased. But no: a book with a smattering of magic that is all about the discovery of SF and SF fandom won. I think that’s rather lovely, actually, and obviously also reflects the voters themselves… although what it says about them, I’m not willing to speculate.