Book review: My Real Children by Jo Walton

The opening chapter of this book is set in an old people’s home and we are introduced to Patricia, who is old and confused. She remembers two versions of her life story, but is not sure which is true. Here is the blurb…

myIt is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. ‘Confused today’ read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War – those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and her memory splits in two.

She was Trish, a housewife and mother of four.

She was Pat, a successful travel writer and mother of three.

She remembers living her life as both women, so very clearly. Which memory is real – or are both just tricks of time and light?

From here, we jump back in time to the 1930s, with Patricia living at home and enjoying her childhood with her brother and parents. Tragedy strikes when both her father and brother are killed, and she goes off to teach at a school in Cornwall. Back at home is her fiancé Mark, who she became engaged to after a whirlwind romance (that lasted just an evening). When Mark rings to say they must marry straight away, Patricia is left to make a difficult decision…

Here, the story splits into two, told through alternating chapters. In one thread, she is Tricia and, having said yes to Mark’s sudden offer of marriage, finds herself living as a housewife in the middle of nowhere. In the other thread of the story, she is Pat – having said no to Mark she finds herself alone and trying to find her way through life.

I initially liked the “Sliding Doors” style of this story, with the  two stories running concurrently. We see how life can change with one split second decision. The contrast between the two strands of narrative is stark – and in fact at times I found the difference a little too stark, with one of the Patricias being blissfully happy and living a perfect life, while the other Patricia has a life so bleak and miserable. Both strands seemed slightly exaggerated in order to make a point – but perhaps the contrast needed to be this stark for the book to work. And I did like the ways the different women’s lives panned out.

What I also liked was how there were a few similarities between the two stories – Patricia’s mother becoming ill, for example, and the ways this was dealt with in the two different stories.

But unfortunately, as the book progressed, I found myself struggling to stay interested. There are two stories whizzing through 70 odd years of Patricia’s two lives, and at times it became really rushed. Suddenly both Patricias had grown-up children and we were finding out about their lives, which became confusing and I found myself losing interest.

Looking at reviews of this book, they all seem to be massively positive so maybe it was just me, but sadly I really did lose interest in this book by the end which was a shame as I did like the premise, and it was well written.

My rating: 6 out of 10

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