Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Review: After Alice by Gregory MaguireAfter Alice by Gregory Maguire
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fairy tales, fantasy, literary fiction
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow on October 27th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis's Carroll's beloved classic
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 new 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 Euridyce 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.

My Review:

alice in wonderland by lewis carrollAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (much better known as Lewis Carroll), was published in 1865. One hundred and fifty years ago. It is not surprising that one or more authors would tackle Alice in her anniversary year. Gregory Maguire, has made a career of tackling modern fairy tales as he does The Wizard of Oz in Wicked, is a natural choice to take a run at Alice.

And the run he takes is slightly sideways. Not that the whole of the original Alice isn’t completely sideways all by itself. Alice is, after all, one of the first and best examples of the literary nonsense genre. No one has done it better.

Instead of chasing after Alice head on, the author has introduced some new characters to literally chase after Alice into Wonderland – and back out again. Mostly.

In After Alice, instead of the real sisters of Alice Liddell, the author has provided a number of girls and women who are semi-concerned about Alice and her whereabouts while she is off in Wonderland.

While her sister Lydia has lost track of Alice and doesn’t care if the perpetually wandering child is temporarily mislaid – because she always comes back, others are not so calm about Alice’s disappearance.

Her best, and probably only, friend Ada arrives at the riverbank just in time to stumble down Alice’s rabbit hole after her friend. By this story’s end, it seems like half the countryside, or at least its female representatives, is chasing after one or both of the girls.

But Ada is in Wonderland, trying to find her best friend. And having her very own adventure of a lifetime.

Escape Rating B: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a book that we all remember reading, or seeing a movie. So we all feel familiar with the story, even if it has been a while. Even quite a while. And for those who want to re-acquaint themselves with one of Oxford’s most famous little girls, there is a 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of The Annotated Alice. Alice’s Oxford is not quite ours, or even the Oxford that Tolkien and Lewis were familiar with. A guidebook to the world she (and Lewis Carroll) knew is lovely.

The attempt in After Alice is to somewhat imitate Carroll’s style while also commenting on both it and the story. After Alice, while it is literally chasing after Alice, also occasionally “breaks the fourth wall” and talks directly to 21st century readers, as though we are time travellers looking back at Alice in 1865 while knowing all of the other famous and fictional characters who knew and loved Oxford in the interim between then and now.

The story, while its main character is following Alice, is on a different adventure. In her real world Ada suffers from curvature of the spine, and wears a metal brace that sounds like an iron maiden without the spikes. In Wonderland, she can walk and even run unaided, while her abandoned brace leads a life of its somewhat diabolical own. The way that the brace restricts her and makes her an object of pity, fear and social ostracism takes real life when she no longer wears it.

Ada’s adventure is different from Alice’s. Ada is more self-aware than Alice, and she goes through her adventure with a mission – to rescue Alice before the girl gets into too much trouble. So there is less outright silliness in Ada’s journey, and that seems right.

The silliness in Ada’s journey comes into play with the people chasing her. Not just Alice’s sister Lydia, but also Ada’s governess. The interactions between the two women and their fears of bearing responsibility for the young girls’ disappearances takes some surprising peeks, and pokes, into the position of women in the Victorian Age.

after alice by gregory maguire UK coverLike Alice’s own journey, Ada’s contains a surprising amount of commentary into her time and place, disguised in the nonsensical, but not actually nonsense, journey through Wonderland.

Reviewer’s Note: The UK cover of After Alice is much, much cooler than the U.S. cover.

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