I was keen to read some more of Jo Walton's work after enjoying [b:Farthing|183740|Farthing (Small Change, #1)|Jo Walton|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1315596391s/183740.jpg|1884104] and its sequels. With a number of positive reviews from GR friends, this seemed a good place to start. A first person narrative written in diary form, the novel centres on 15 year old Welsh teenager Morwenna, who lives for the science fiction and fantasy novels she adores, who sees fairies and performs magic, whose mother is a witch and who has lost her twin sister in an event which takes place before the novel starts and which has left her coping with pain and disability. Sent to boarding school in England, Morwenna relates her experiences with reading, with loneliness, with trying to make friends and with working out her relationship with magic.
Morwenna's diary is full of references to novels, most of them fantasy and science fiction. While I've heard of a number of these works, I've read very few of them. Had I been more familiar with them, it would have added an extra dimension to my enjoyment of the novel. However, familiarity with the works wasn't necessary for me to either follow the plot or to identify with Morwenna. At its heart, the work is a coming of age story and as I listened to the audiobook I recognised my teenage self in the prickly, sullen and damaged Morwenna. In some ways I was that teenage girl: moving to a different country and a new school after a family breakdown, wondering if I'd ever make new friends, often confused, angry and resentful about the decisions made for and about me .... and finding solace in books. My books were not Morwenna's books, but they did gave me a place to escape to and at times the books felt more real than the world around me.
The work can be read on a number of levels. It can be taken at face value as a novel about a girl with magical powers whose mother is a witch. A reader may also conclude that the magical elements are part of Morwenna's fantasy life and that the witch is no more than an ordinarily psychotic mother. (Morwenna's descriptions of her mother at various points reminded me strongly of someone with bipolar disorder). It may even be concluded that Morwenna did not have a twin sister and that the dead twin sister represents something about Morwenna herself. However, it doesn't really matter whether the magic is "real" or not. What the idea of magic gives to Morwenna and the dilemmas it creates are what's important. In relation to the magic, I particularly like that Morwenna doesn't see magic as something easy to do or always right to do. I also like that she sees the magic in everyday things - things to which other people would give much more prosaic explanations.
The audiobook is extremely well narrated by Katherine Kellgren, who is not Welsh. When I started listening I was initially impressed by her Welsh accent, but then I started wondering whether the accent was a bit exaggerated. I asked a Welsh friend to listen to it for a few minutes. His first impression was that the narrator was Welsh and that she sounded a lot like one of his aunts. However, after a while he could hear the accent slip every now and again. He said that while the accent was not one that he would associate with The Valleys - where Morwenna comes from in Wales - it was excellent overall.
It could be argued that the references to science fiction and fantasy are a bit too much and distract from some of the themes of the novel and it could also be argued that the ending was somewhat abrupt and unsatisfying. However, my overall reaction to the novel is very positive. I have a feeling that Morwenna is going to haunt me for a while.