Jo Walton’s My Real Children is about Patricia. It begins with her as an old woman, living in a home, and “very confused” according to her doctors. She forgets things, but she also remembers plenty, including two different pasts. The novel goes back to explore her childhood, coming of age during World War Two, and schooldays in Oxford. There is a man that she does or does not marry, and from here the narrative divides into two realities.
Walton balances the historical and the speculative. In both lives the personal is political. Patricia is influenced by second wave feminism, nuclear disarmament, and LGBT rights. Walton came up with two interesting alternate histories, but more impressively she created two complicated fascinating families. In both worlds Patricia is a loving mother, who wants the best for her children. The circumstances are different, both families dysfunctional in different ways, but Patricia’s family is the center of her world. In both timelines Patricia is nearing the end of a long eventful life, full of love and sorrow. It’s heart wrenching as she loses track of her past, and her meaning disintegrates, unsure what family is real, of what she is forgetting or had only imagined. It’s a beautiful and fascinating book.