When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?
In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.
Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”
I’m in the middle of reading this one; it’s not an easy read, and to be honest, I’m not sure, now that I’ve put it down, if I’ll get back to picking it up again. The list review style is also great when I’m dealing with a book I’m not sure about, so here goes:
1. This book is most definitely not an easy read. It demands a lot of the reader, and I’m still unsure whether the payoff for all that effort is there. But it might be.
2. If you’re the type of reader who likes to know the meanings of words that are new to you, keep a dictionary on hand. You’re probably going to encounter at least one word you’ll need to look up in every paragraph.
3. I think, actually, that’s where the book started to lose me. The Words. Now, I love words, and I love word play–I mean, that’s what makes Alice in Wonderland the charmer that it is. But the thing is, in Alice in Wonderland it really is word play. In Alice, Lewis Carroll displays a genuine delight, a kind of delirious fun with words. But in After Alice, this sense of play isn’t there. Often you get the feeling the Words are The Point of the paragraph, the passage, the book. Not character, not story, not theme, but the Words.
4. Having said that, there are some delightful lines. Like:
From a distance he has the appearance of a walking cucumber that has gone deliquescent in the middle.
(And nope. I did not know what “diliquescent” meant. In case you’re wondering: “becoming liquid or having a tendency to become liquid.”)
5. Despite what you might be thinking, only about half of the book is about Ada’s adventures in Wonderland. The other part is about Alice’s sister, Lydia, in the real(er) world of Victorian England. And at times, with all this back and forth, it felt like After Alice wasn’t sure what it truly wanted to be: the story of Ada’s journey into a surreal world, or a philosophical exploration of the mores of Victorian England.
6. I preferred the Wonderland chapters.
7. Some of the dialogue in Wonderland is wonderfully quirky and reminiscent of Carroll’s dialogue.
8. So you don’t have to stop and Google it, if you’re reading the book: in the language of lowers, yellow flowers stand for jealousy and infidelity. (See Chapter 11, and Ada’s reflections on the mysterious nature of the literature of roses.)
9. I’m not quite ready to DNF this one, but it might join the books in my stacks labelled “To Be Finished Later”.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for my review copy of this book.