(No serious spoilers below, so it should be safe unless you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to know anything about what happens in a book beforehand. In which case I’ll just say “it’s good, go read it.”

I’m finishing My Real Children, by Jo Walton (audiobook, while exercising), and I would say it’s a worthy successor to her Among Others. (For clarity, I mean “successor only” in the sense of “later book by the same author” – they are completely unconnected stories.) This is very big praise, for anyone who hasn’t read AO – that one had me babbling for days. While Among Others is a coming-of-age book, this one is set at the other end of life. This is a needed thing – there are so many books about growing up, and so few about growing old. How are we supposed to learn and try on different ways to do it, those of us who like to learn from books?

Patricia – I’m calling her that t refer to her in both lives; Walton uses different nicknames to distinguish them – is an old woman in a nursing home, suffering from dementia, who comes to realize that she has two complete sets of memories. The rest of the book unfurls her two different lives, in parallel year by year. The parallel lifestreams spring from a choice she made as a young woman. Like Walton’s Farthing series, the only explicitly SF thing about the book is the alternate history aspect. Within Patricia’s two lives, Walton manages to explore issues of motherhood, spousal abuse, lesbianism (in an unsympathetic society), disability, nuclear war and political brinksmanship, illness and death.

Still, it’s not generally a depressing book, though a lot of it made me angry. When I read The Feminine Mystique in the 1980s, it was history – even thirty years ago it was mindboggling that the world Friedan portrayed had been real for so many women in relatively recent memory. One of Patricia’s incarnations is one of those women, and going through her story it’s absolutely real when feminism comes as a revelation.

This would have been a better book to read than to listen to during my workouts. It’s not because of the reader, who is excellent; it’s just absolutely the worst sort of book for that purpose, because not much happens it (other than, you know, life and death and joy and sorrow, love and heartache) but I was enthralled anyway. (Though I’ve done Dickens on the erg too – at least this moves a lot faster than David Copperfield or Nicholas Nickleby!) On the other hand, the slower pacing of an audiobook may have increased its impact; during the painful parts, I had to live through them at the author’s chosen speed instead of racing through to get to something happier.