So, first off: I am completely, utterly biased. Jo sent me a copy to review, I had my own pre-ordered copy several days before the book released, I love her work in general, and she’s been great to me. This doesn’t speak to me in the same way Among Others did, but all the same, it’s wonderful. I love the way the two timelines are handled, and I love the way that last chapter brings things back into alignment. I love that I was thinking all along that I wasn’t sure about the narration, and yet somehow it worked and brought me to tears.
The thing with the narration is, this is a short book to hold the sum of two lives. So at times the narration seems to summarise things that could have been interesting expanded. I wasn’t sure for parts of it whether the emotional impact would still be there, but it is. In some places, it fits perfectly the way things happen: matter of fact, sudden, without announcing themselves first. I was thinking about whether I’d want it to be expanded, but I don’t think I would. It would take away from the structure, the careful balance Jo builds.
I love the fact that this book is jammed full of people. Gay people, out and closeted both; unconventional relationships and love that doesn’t colour between the lines; families, built and chosen; people with disabilities who conform to no stereotype; pacifists and campaigners; scientists; women making their way in a sexist world and pushing the boundaries… All of them are handled with respect and care for their stories.
The whole plot… I don’t know how much is too much to give away, here. The final chapter just makes everything slide into place and come clear. You’ve got Pat/Trish living two separate lives, each with their own kinds of happiness and fulfillment. You think it’s going to be simple to choose which one you’d prefer for her, and then if you just tilt to the head you can see why that wouldn’t be the right choice.
And I don’t know if anyone else felt this, coming to the last page, but I don’t actually know which version of herself Patricia chooses. It looks like a straight-up choice between personal happiness and wider well-being, but the whole book shows us the importance of tiny actions by a single person. Trish is a person who takes care of other people, who sacrifices her own well-being for that: does Patricia choose to follow her path, because that’s part of who she is? Pat is a person who focuses on her family, who loves art, who makes the world a better place, but who is ultimately quite insular: does Patricia choose to follow Pat, because that insularity is part of her too? Saying that she couldn’t make any other choice only makes sense after she’s chosen.