Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tremain's Book Corner: "After Alice" by Gregory Maguire

After Alice
Author: Gregory Maguire
Reviewed By: Tremain Jackson, South Branch Manager
Personal Rating: 3 Stars

Book Summary: 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 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 the 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.

Personal Review: After being a huge fan of Maguire's earlier works including Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Mirror Mirror, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and more, it's great to delve into his unique retellings of classic stories we've all grown up with.

I very much wish I could have given this entry much praise, but this title was just a little...slower for me.  Perhaps it was because I was never fond of the Alice in Wonderland series (sue me), but this novel wasn't able to capture my attention as much as his other titles have.

Before I get into what I didn't enjoy about the novel, let me highlight the areas I thought the book was strong in.  Maguire was able to fashion a new story in the Wonderland universe, and giving the series a new character to follow, Ada, as she's on-the-hunt for finding Alice.  A.though we're taken back to this world we're familiar with, Maguire puts his own stamp on Wonderland.  It's not as stylized, magical, and whimsical as the children's series, but that holds true to how Maguire interprets the tales he re-imagines.  I appreciated that; however, his version will still be recognizable to loyal fans of the "traditional" Wonderland.

Additionally, I liked how this story belonged to Ada, as Alice didn't show up until the final pages of the novel, so it became a story all its own.  Plus, if there's anything that Maguire knows how to do well, its being able to craft strong characters, especially while focusing on those lesser known character from the original series.  For instance, you'll be able to learn about the Tin Bear and the Ballerina, which gave the book a little more flavor by offering something new.  Additionally, I liked the humor throughout the book as it was age-appropriate for its target audience and cleverly written.

That being said, there were some aspects of this novel that left me wanting for more...the first of which was the title.  With a title like "After Alice" I went into it thinking it was going to be a story about what happened to Alice after her adventures.  Instead, it was a clever play on words to describe her friend who went after her to find her in Wonderland.  Fair enough.

Next, in Maguire style no less, it offered deeper critical thinking in many areas and it didn't quite work for me.  Themes of slavery and freedom resonate throughout the book; however, if that's where the focus needed to be, I would have rather had that emphasis than delving too much into the nonsensical world of Wonderland.  Plus, the characters of Lydia (Alice's older sister) goes on her own storyline with Darwin, and it just started skipping all over the place, making it a bit tiresome of a read.

Although the novel is somewhat focusing on what happened to Alice's family during her disappearance, and what impact it had, he used his storytelling skills to help fill in the gaps, but it took a while to actually get there for my liking.  Although Maguire's books are written to not only be fun, but clever and smart, this book was just "trying" too hard, covering too many characters at once (as well as their stories) and in a span of less than 300 pages, it was too much to try to tackle in that length of a book.

Unless you're an avid fan of t4he Wonderland world, or a diehard fan of the author's, this may not be the book for you.  Although it is relatively short in length, it was not a quick read, and may cause for some people to just want to put it down altogether.  Again, I may be biased as I've never been a true fan of the Alice stories, but I still enjoy Maguire's style of writing and retellings.  This one may have missed the mark for me, but that won't keep me away from looking out for his future novels.

If you want to try it for yourself, feel free to check with the Abilene Public Library and reserve a copy...after all, the true beauty of any book is always in the eye of the beholder.

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