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304 pages, Hardcover
First published January 18, 2011
“This is for all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.”I'm not quite sure how to describe this book, what precisely it is - but it has that *something* that is making me read it for the third time in as many years, and each time it finds a new way into my heart.
“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.”This is a love ode to books and libraries, and the magic of stories, and the unashamed homage to so many science fiction classics, and the perfect understanding that "If you love books enough, books will love you back."
“Half way,” Glorfindel said, and he didn’t mean I was half dead without her or that she was halfway through or any of that, he meant that I was halfway through Babel 17, and if I went on I would never find out how it came out.It is also an offbeat story of a girl who grew up seeing fairies in Wales, walking a thin line between magic and mundane - or perhaps, just playing it all in her overactive and slightly unstable imagination.
There may be stranger reasons for being alive.”
“And it was the landscape that formed us, that made us who we were as we grew in it, that affected everything. We thought we were living in a fantasy landscape when actually we were living in a science fictional one.”It is a story about adjusting to the life in which you are an outsider, where you stick out like a sore thumb, an outsider still stripped raw from the death of the twin sister who was a part of you more than others could ever understand and from the shattering your life took both physically and emotionally.
"Twins are clones, too. If you looked at an elm tree you’d never think it was part of all the others. You’d see an elm tree. Same when people look at me now: they see a person, not half a set of twins."It's a story of learning to live with the physical and mental pain and learning to redefine a new normal for yourself, burying all the possibilities from before and trying to focus on the realities of now.
“I have finished with saving the world, and I never expected it to be the slightest bit grateful anyway.”
“It’s too late for that now. I’m going to grow up and she isn’t. She’s frozen where she is, and I’m changing, and I want to change. I want to live. I thought I had to live for both of us, because she can’t live for herself, but I can’t really live for her. I can’t really know what she’d have done, what she’d have wanted, how she’d have changed.”It's a story of painful search and longing for people who are *yours*, your karass, who will understand you and accept you and be there for you even when everything is crashing down around you.
"Being left alone—and I am being left alone—isn’t quite as much what I wanted as I thought. Is this how people become evil? I don’t want to be."And it's a story of the aftermath, of what happens after climax of the 'before' story had been achieved and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces of their lives.
“Bibliotropic,” Hugh said. “Like sunflowers are heliotropic, they naturally turn towards the sun. We naturally turn towards the bookshop.”
“[...] When I needed someone, somehow that net of family that I counted on to be there for me, the way you might bounce down to a trampoline, disappeared, and instead of bouncing back I hit the ground hard.”Don't look for much of conventional plot here - that's been left behind in the story that Mori only alludes to, the story after the climax of which we join in. This is Frodo's life after the Scouring of the Shire, as Mori notes.
“Tolkien understood about the things that happen after the end. Because this is after the end, this is all the Scouring of the Shire, this is figuring out how to live in the time that wasn’t supposed to happen after the glorious last stand. I saved the world, or I think I did, and look, the world is still here, with sunsets and interlibrary loans. And it doesn’t care about me any more than the Shire cared about Frodo.”Don't look for conventional magic or fantasy or you'll be sorely disappointed. Mori's world is full of very vague, very subtle 'magic' that you can easily rationalize as either the remnants of magical thinking of childhood or perhaps a way her traumatized mind comes to rationalize the trauma that left her broken - or, if you want to be cruel, perhaps some of the seeds of madness that, if we believe Mori, possess her mother, the woman who persistently burns one of her daughters out of the photographs that she sends to her.
“One of the things I’ve always liked about science fiction is the way it makes you think about things, and look at things from angles you’d never have thought about before.”Yes, it does help if you have read at least some of them. Yes, it's precisely the wealth of books that remains at the heart of this story about finding self in the world that is not rushing to meet you with open arms. Yes, there will be more about books and Mori's impressions of them than any other plot strands. It's the strange beauty of this book, and it's the heart of it.
“Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization.Mori Phelps (Morwenna? Morganna? You tell me, I'm still confused by the implications of a couple of seemingly throwaway and yet deeply significant lines in the book) needs to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and learn to live with the aftermath, and not just simply live but be herself, find friends, thrive, find new things that matter, make new post-aftermath hopes and fears, come to peace with her losses and move on while still keeping what's dear to her in her heart.
Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”
“And here I am, still alive, still in the world. It’s my intention to carry on being alive in the world, well, until I die. [...] I’ll live, and read, and have friends, a karass, people to talk to. I’ll grow and change and be myself. I’ll belong to libraries wherever I go. [...] Things will happen that I can’t imagine. I’ll change and grow into a future that will be unimaginably different from the past. I’ll be alive. I’ll be me. I’ll be reading my book.”Wonderful book, unusual, subtle and memorable, a tribute to the time of searching for books in the bookstores and libraries and not knowing what will come your way, and forever a tribute to the times of searching for yourself in life and really having no idea what will come your way.
Think of this as a memoir. Think of it as one of those memoirs that's later discredited to everyone's horror because the writer lied and is revealed to be a different colour, gender, class and creed from the way they'd made everybody think. I have the opposite problem. I have to keep fighting to stop making myself sound more normal. Fiction's nice. Fiction lets you select and simplify. This isn't a nice story, and this isn't an easy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It's not like you'd believe it anyway.