One woman, two lives and plenty of children between them. My Real Children is a trip down memory lane for Patricia Cowan, suffering from dementia, as she clings onto the fading memories of two parallel lives that stem from the one defining moment in her life.
In one life she’s a repressed housewife and mother, plagued with insecurities and worries. In the other, she flourishes as a travel writer with her lover and their three children. The story considers the consequences of her decisions, both in her immediate lives and on wider society.
It’s a compelling idea, with plenty of fuel and a well-planned structure. Walton writes fluently and the language is unapologetically accessible, which is refreshing. There’s also the added convenience of referring to Patricia as Pat and Tricia, depending on the life you’re reading at that time.
Sadly, a good idea can’t make up for a weak story, and My Real Children falls victim to a disappointingly hollow, flat storyline. By cramming two lifetimes into 300 pages, Walton quickly brushes over significant moments, and the characters – even Patricia – lack any kind of depth or passion. It’s unbearably hard to feel empathy for such a shallow, bland protagonist.
There’s an attempt at presenting some kind of butterfly effect, but it’s so vaguely hinted at that it goes practically unnoticed, with the occasional reference to fantasy historical events serving as a jarring reminder that these are actually alternate realities.
There’s no denying that the book covers a fascinating concept. As humans, we naturally obsess over every possible outcome of a situation, and Walton does provide food for thought. It’s just a shame that such a powerful idea has been undermined by such wishy-washy characters and such a fleshless story.