It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.
Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?
Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.
My Real Children by Jo Walton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“Now.” “Never.” When her fiance Mark gives her an ultimatum about their wedding date, Patty’s life splits into two completely different paths. One where she marries him and becomes an isolated housewife with four children, and one where she ends their relationship and becomes a writer of travel guides.
I put this on my to-read list because I found it in a list of sci-fi books somewhere. I’ve noticed a lot of comments that it’s not a ‘proper’ sci-fi book (whatever that is) but I disagree. Maybe it’s the focus on women’s issues and lives that make people feel like it’s not really sci-fi? It certainly is a focus rarely seen in this genre. But there are moon bases and Mars missions going on in the background (including a marriage on the moon!) and of course the divergent / alternate histories – it’s as sci-fi as The Man in the High Castle anyway.
But more importantly than the question of is this really sci-fi or not, there is also a story good enough to make me just glad that I came across it, whatever it is. Both of Patty’s stories are by turns happy, fun and heartbreaking that had me hooked. I stayed up way past my bedtime reading this and I resented having to put it down.
My only issue is that the later years are just skimmed over, almost like too long was spent on Patty’s early life and there just wasn’t enough space in the book left for Patty when she was older. I felt like a lot got missed out in Patty’s lives and also the happenings in each of the worlds. The tech and politics in the two different timelines diverged a lot and I found it hard to keep track of what was happening in each because they were only mentioned in passing. The differences between them suddenly became a very important part of the story at the end of the book and I’d not paid enough attention to really understand the decision Patty had to make.
Aside from that, I found it very moving, with characters that I could care about. My emotions went up and down right along with Patty and both her families.
It’s a ‘can’t put it down’ novel that I very much enjoyed. I highly recommend it for your next holiday read! Just pay attention to what’s going on in the background a bit more than I did.