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Lifelode by Jo Walton
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Lifelode (edition 2009)

by Jo Walton (Author)

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11711103,116 (4.27)17
bluesalamanders's review
A scholar comes to Applekirk from the West. An ancestor comes home from her travels in the East. Their presence shakes up the village more than anyone could have imagined.

The worldbuilding is intriguing - time runs quicker in the East and slower in the West, which effects how one's mind works and how yeya (magic) functions. The gods are in the East, where yeya is most powerful and thoughts run quickest. Applekirk is somewhere in the middle. It's accepted that if someone travels east or west, a different amount of time will pass for them as passes at home.

Lifelode seems to mean a calling. For some characters, their lifelode is farming, or pottery, or yeya, and to be kept from one's lifelode is a terrible burden. Despite that being the title of the book, it isn't delved into as deeply as you might expect.

Relationships, love, and sex are dealt with in interesting ways. Marriage is as much about politics and inheritance as about love, and it's no dishonor or insult to fall in love with someone else, so a person can have relationships (fleeting or serious) with as many or as few people as they like, as long as everyone involved agrees. It's very idealistic, viewed from our culture. Although when the agreements are forgotten or ignored, then problems ensue.

It takes time for this story to get going. The first third or half of the book is introducing characters and setting the stage for what happens in the rest, and some of it seems unnecessary, particularly the very beginning and end, when characters are discussing writing a book about the events that happen - in the book. But it is an well-written book with loads of interesting characters. Overall I enjoyed it and would recommend it. ( )
  bluesalamanders | Jun 14, 2012 |
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I've loved everything I've read by Jo Walton, but it's so hard to rate them in relation to each other, because they're each so different. I enjoyed Lifelode more than Tooth and Claw, but perhaps less than Farthing -- yet I rated both four stars. I loved Among Others most of all her work so far, and I'm not sure Lifelode matches up... Maybe I should be rating all her work that I've read so far five stars, except Tooth and Claw.

Her range of work is fascinating. Her books are not like each other, and yet all of them are well-written and ambitious, and succeed very well with their ambitions. The narration of Lifelode, for example, is done in both past and present tense, because for one of the main characters, time is like that: all things happening at once. I expected to see more of the more distant past, through Taveth, but it was very much about that generation, the people she knew. It's a very warm book, full of family bonds and love.

It's also interesting in that polyamory seems to be the default, and Jo Walton treats that sensitively. There's a sense of great strength in the relationships, but also an acknowledgement of the problems they'll succeed. There's also LGBT people, and one who seems pretty much asexual. She always writes about all kinds of people, and that's another thing I really appreciate about her writing.

It's also nice that the gendering of roles isn't a really big thing here. Taveth is a housewife, but she chooses that, and her role is central to the functioning of her home. But even a female priest is still just called a priest, not a priestess.

I've managed to say all that and say nothing about the plot. It's a domestic fantasy, although there is also a level on which it is about gods. I think the homelife is as important to the story as the bursts of fighting, and the magic -- the bonds between people are, I think, more important, as they are what is under threat. Don't go into it expecting a big showdown at the end, or something like that. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
If you’re a Twitter friend, you may remember when I started Lifelode, because I got all excited over the fact that it’s basically China Court by Rumer Godden in a magical world. And since China Court is one of my heart books and Jo Walton perfectly caught the weird loveliness of her present tense everything happening at once style, I expected to adore this one.

And I liked it a lot. Like I said, Walton really caught the style perfectly, and the sense of both the home-liness and the turn of wider events that China Court has. I love domestic books, and I loved Taveth almost instantly. And I liked the sense of family dynamic and the complicated way it unfolds in the world of the book.

Where I got hung up is actually something surprising for me: pacing. For the first three quarters of the book, we have this lovely slow paced story, with lots of attention to details of everyday life and if that’s your thing, ignore what I’m about to say and go read it, because while I was reading I was living in Applekirk. But then at the end larger events come into the picture and lots of Things, Spoilerish Things, happen all at once, and then the story ends.

We’ve gotten hints of what’s happened since then throughout the book, thanks to the structure, and there is a bit at the end that helps to wind everything up. But I’m not quite talking about that, more about the fact that there didn’t seem to be any space in the moment for me to react what was happening, to feel anything. (Versus the big finale of Among Others where I will get choked up if I see one paragraph out of context.)

Again, that’s a personal thing, and yet I think there is something there that’s a little less finished than the rest of the book. As I said, though, if lovely descriptions of everyday life in a world not our own makes you go, “Ooooo,” read this one.

( )
  maureene87 | Apr 4, 2013 |

A domestic, pastoral fantasy, this novel is set in the village of Applekirk whose inhabitants live out their lives in accordance with their traditions and with the seasons. However, ordinary lives for these villagers involve such things as nuclear families comprised of four adults and their assorted children, the practice of "yeya" - a form of magic - and a commitment to honouring their "lifelode", that is, their skill, their passion, their role in life.

Into the village come two people, Rankin, a scholar from the rationalist and scientific Western part of the world in which Applekirk exists and Hanethe, former lord of Applekirk, who left to go to the spiritual Eastern region and who returns because she has displeased a god. The presence of Rankin and Hanethe sets off a chain of events which leads to the climax of the novel.

Time is the most important element of the narrative. Taveth, a central character in the novel, is able to see people at different stages of their lives at once - as they are, as the child or the teenager they once were and as the elderly person they will become. Past, present and future happen simultaneously. In addition, Applekirk exists on a continuum where space and time expand as one travels from East to West. Days or weeks of time in the East may be decades in Applekirk and centuries in the West. The sense that time is not fixed and that what happens in life can happen all at once pervades the work.

The novel is not just about time, though. Amongst other things, it's about religion, politics, sexual mores and family life. Applekirk's conventions, practices and beliefs raise questions about our own conventions, practices and beliefs, which I guess is part of the role of good literature.

It took a couple of chapters for me to begin to understand the world of Applekirk and the web of relationships which exists between the main characters. I particularly like that Walton doesn't spoonfeed her readers. She makes them work to become immersed in the world she creates. I also love Walton's beautiful prose, her inventiveness, her humour, her playfulness, her ability to create memoreable characters and her willingness to write a fantasy which celebrates the ordinary things in life.

Thank you to my friend BunWat, for introducing me to Jo Walton by suggesting that I might like to read [b:Farthing|183740|Farthing (Small Change, #1)|Jo Walton|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1315596391s/183740.jpg|1884104] and also for entrusting her signed copy of this novel to the vagaries of the international postal system. The book will head home having won another fan.

( )
  KimMR | Apr 2, 2013 |
a couple of years back, there was a news story about a virtuoso violinist who played in a DC metro station during rush hour, just to see if anyone would stop and appreciate beauty in the midst of everyday life (sadly, few did). this book is the literary equivalent: a lovely example of an artist in fine form, on an intimate, personal scale.

Taveth is the housekeeper of the country manor house of her village. she "sees through time", catching echoes of future events and past selves in everyday life, resulting in a story that meanders non-linearly in the same way her life experience does. the disjointed time should feel awkward, but it doesn't. reading this is watching the virtuoso at work: it's a natural, smooth flow that delicately inserts you into someone else's way of viewing the world, and manages to neatly tuck all the loose threads of that life back into the braid of time by the end. it's a story about working in the kitchen, raising children, being in love, the turning of the seasons, and feeding your family, all with just a light touch of the local household magic - it's a far cry from the usual fantasy kings & monsters.

about halfway through, the book feels the need to have a plot, at which point in time it's about slightly larger events told in a more linearly-straightforward fashion. the characters are so vividly drawn that I didn't mind the shift, but the drifting closer to normalcy does make this go from a brilliant to a merely very good book. it's a sterling example of character-driven storytelling, well worth picking up if you find a copy. ( )
  fireweaver | Mar 31, 2013 |
This may be a writer's book. I can't tell if others will appreciate the mastery of technique required to tell this story in the way that it is told. I know that I appreciate it, greatly.

This is a story about a family. Its centered on one of the adults of that family, Taveth; whose gift and calling, or "lifelode" is to keep house. Taveth lives in a world where magic works and she sees through time, she may look at someone and see their older self or their younger self, she may look at a flower and see the fruit, she may look out a window in summer and see snow falling.

Because the story centers on Taveth, and because Taveth sees through time and keeps house, the story is not told in strict sequential order. It comes in circles and cycles, like the cycling of seasons in the kitchen garden and the putting up and using up of preserves and the time coming around again to shear the sheep to wash the wool to spin the blankets for the children who grow up to bring children into the family to sit in the same red chair and bang the same spoon that their father did, on a new blue bowl to replace the one that was broken...

This is not an easy way to write a story, but Walton makes it work, and work beautifully. I'm kind of gobsmacked at how she pulls off this high wire act - writing a story out of sequential order and having it still make sense. But more than I admire the technical prowess I admire the perfect match between style and subject. Because housekeeping is cycles and it is timeless. That style subject match is something I am learning to expect from Walton and every time its a different but terrific match up.

I love Taveth, and I love that Walton has the guts to take on the story of a happily married middle aged woman who keeps house and find a way to make it resonant and funny and intellectually challenging, without turning Taveth into someone else. Taveth doesn't suddenly become a warrior or get captured and oppressed, or learn that she's actually the heir to a fortune or reveal a secret ambition to become a ballerina. There is tragedy and there is triumph and loss and struggle and Taveth participates in all of it as she also goes on doing what Taveth does, keeping the household ticking over, making sure everyone has food to eat and clothes to wear and isn't catching a cold or forgetting to talk to their little brother on his birthday.

In the preface to this novel Sharyn November comments that it is a feminist novel in the best sense of the word. I agree. It genuinely values Taveth and her lifelode and takes them seriously but doesn't suggest that everyone else has to be Taveth to be fulfilled. Its a wonderful book. ( )
  bunwat | Mar 30, 2013 |
A scholar comes to Applekirk from the West. An ancestor comes home from her travels in the East. Their presence shakes up the village more than anyone could have imagined.

The worldbuilding is intriguing - time runs quicker in the East and slower in the West, which effects how one's mind works and how yeya (magic) functions. The gods are in the East, where yeya is most powerful and thoughts run quickest. Applekirk is somewhere in the middle. It's accepted that if someone travels east or west, a different amount of time will pass for them as passes at home.

Lifelode seems to mean a calling. For some characters, their lifelode is farming, or pottery, or yeya, and to be kept from one's lifelode is a terrible burden. Despite that being the title of the book, it isn't delved into as deeply as you might expect.

Relationships, love, and sex are dealt with in interesting ways. Marriage is as much about politics and inheritance as about love, and it's no dishonor or insult to fall in love with someone else, so a person can have relationships (fleeting or serious) with as many or as few people as they like, as long as everyone involved agrees. It's very idealistic, viewed from our culture. Although when the agreements are forgotten or ignored, then problems ensue.

It takes time for this story to get going. The first third or half of the book is introducing characters and setting the stage for what happens in the rest, and some of it seems unnecessary, particularly the very beginning and end, when characters are discussing writing a book about the events that happen - in the book. But it is an well-written book with loads of interesting characters. Overall I enjoyed it and would recommend it. ( )
  bluesalamanders | Jun 14, 2012 |
The book jacket refers to this as a domestic fantasy. It takes place in the manor house of Applekirk. Ferrand is the lord of Applekirk. His wife is Chayra. Ferrand's sweetmate Taveth runs the household. It is her lifelode (calling). Taveth's husband Ranal is in charge of the farming on the estate. Taveth and Ranal have two teenaged children. Taveth and Ferrand have a young daughter. Ferrand and Chayra have a son, Hodge, who is the heir of the manor. Chayra and Ranal have an infant daughter. This is the family of Applekirk. Applekirk is somewhere in the midlands of this world. Travel west and time passes faster while thoughts and actions slow down. In the very far west people are robotic, doing the same things over and over. Travel east and time slows down while thoughts and actions speed up. In the east yeya (magic) is practiced and becomes more powerful the further east one travels. The gods live in the east. People spend decades in the east and return to their homes in the west to find that many hundreds of years have passed.
Taveth has a special power that allows her to see the past, present and future of individuals all at a glance. The story itself tells of the past, present and future--all in the present tense. It's a little confusing at first, but, then you learn how to figure out the time based on the context.
The story -As summer ends things are going along routinely for the family. They are preparing for the harvest. Taveth is planning what to store to get the family through the winter. Jankin, an academic from the university town of Marakanda, to the west of Applekirk, comes to stay with the family. Jankin is studying the Marisians; the ancient peoples thought to have setteled the area around Applekirk. The same day that Jankin arrives at Applekirk Hanethe, great-greatgrandmother of Ferrand arrives home. Hanethe was once lord of the manor. She left many generations ago and no one alive remembers her except by name. Only decades have passed for Hanethe . She has very powerful yeya. Hanethe is returning to Applekirk after having provoked the god Agdisdis. Agdisdis is the god of childbirth. Agdisdis will use many people, including Jankin, to exact her revenge upon Hanethe. Agdisdis' revenge will have profound effects upon the family and the village of Applekirk.
A plus for foodies --- because the story centers around Taveth and her lifelode is housekeeping you get to read about every meal that she cooks. Reading this book made me hungry.
This is a limited edition book. Only 800 copies were printed. ( I have #242). If you're interested in this book I'd recommend looking for it as soon as possible before the limited edition sells out.
Highly recommended, 4/5 stars. ( )
  VioletBramble | Feb 19, 2012 |
Jo Walton stretches the boundaries of fantasy once more, in a domestic fantasy that, as is usual in her work, explores weighty themes in a human, and humane, way.
  Fledgist | Mar 31, 2010 |
This novel is about time. Time runs at different speeds in this world, and characters experience it differently, moving east to west or west to east. It is written, very unusually, entirely in the present tense (Walton took this idea from Rumer Goden, she reveals in an interview at the close of the book). The result is that it is a somewhat difficult book to read. One feels that only people who read SF will not be putting it down in frustration, which is their loss.

The multiple time frames (all reported in the present tense, remember) means it _is_ confusing (I'd have preferred not to have the last-two-remebering thread, or left it until later, to clarify things a little). The overall effect is wonderful, though. It's reminiscent of Islandic sagas, in its intense focus on a single family and locality, with added bloodshed, courtroom scene and legal disputes. ( )
  Rivendell | Aug 29, 2009 |
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