Sunday, September 27, 2015

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Review based on advanced review copy received for free in exchange for an honest review.

I am no stranger to Gregory Maguire. I started with Wicked, as everyone should. I was wow'd. After Alice did not completely move me, as Wicked did. However, it w
as a wonderful little novel with a lot of the magic that Maguire showed in Wicked coming through.

As the title and cover imply, After Alice is somehow a take on Alice in Wonderland. However, this story does not really track Alice, per se; rather, it tracks her awkward, chunky, physically disabled friend Ada. Ada is mentioned in Carroll's own Alice only in passing (passage at the beginning of After Alice shows only mention of Ada's long ringlets).

In Maguire's version, Ada is a difficult, perhaps abrasive, curious, but sweet-hearted child, with a near-full body back-brace and an inclination to get in trouble. Ada perhaps intentionally misunderstands the instruction to bring Alice some marmalade and uses the opportunity to escape not only the vicarage, where she lives with her noisy baby brother, but also her governess who is always attempting to correct Ada into ... well, into someone perhaps more like Alice.

Ada sees the famous white rabbit with a timeclock and, as we know Alice has done, follows the rabbit and falls down the hole to wonderland. Everything from the fall itself to Ada's experiences in Wonderland and the various "people" she meets down there are described with a very strong nod to the images and stories we know from the traditional Alice. Unsurprisingly, Maguire's take is dark. There is an ominous presence hanging over everything and even careless death occurs without the batting of an eye.

Additionally, amidst Ada's adventures, Maguire takes us back and forth between her nanny's awful day (she has lost one of her charges!), Alice's sister's day (her very teenage confusing feelings about her mother's recent passing and the attentions of an American visitor and his black adoptee), and Siam, the black child who has escaped slavery and worse under the care of Mr. Winter (the American). And there are, I believe, a few other perspectives as well. Yet Maguire is certainly a talented writer, and the varying perspectives work well together, moving together toward a climax in Wonderland and in the real world around the same time.

I enjoyed the story and the magic that Maguire weaves into the everyday, and the everyday that Maguire weaves into the magical... and I was particularly impressed with the ending.... something about it (no spoilers!) just... I don't know, it almost made me feel as if the world were unsteady for a few moments.

What I didn't love... all I really didn't love about the book might be the pacing. I say "might be" because I had so much going on in my own life while I was reading this, it is hard to tell if the book or real life was the cause of my relatively slow read. Regardless, I thought it was a pretty, enjoyable read.

I would recommend to fans of Maguire, to fans of Alice in Wonderland, and to fans of magical realism and fantasy. FOUR of five stars.

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