After Alice by ‘Wicked’ author Gregory Maguire – amusing and clever but a bit exclusive

adaptations, Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, children's books, London, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Thoughts

Alice’s friend Ada is tasked with finding the fallen child, and finds herself tumbling down the rabbit hole to find familiar faces and new adventures. Meanwhile the search for Alice continues, as her big sister and governess search fruitlessly, and their father receives a visitor with a foreign ward. The worlds above and below turn to chaos as everyone tries to find or leave home…

Hmmmmm. I was super excited to read this, though my excitement was tempered by the fact that LOTS of people had told me that Maguire’s Wicked was boring. Now, this book wasn’t boring at all. The plot was interesting, the characters intriguing, the concept brilliant. And there was a lot of Carrollian absurdity, invention and wit. But I think that the problem people have with Maguire’s writing is his elitist prose.

With my great intelligence (ahem) I could, of course, largely understand it. But it made my read a brain exercise rather than a pleasure. The plus points of it are that Maguire is obviously enjoying himself: taking pleasure in a well explained concept, or a particular word. But I am made biased by my journalism degree which taught me that good writing is simple writing: or never using a long word where a short one would do. And Maguire always uses the long word. Of course, there are similarities to Carroll here. Maguire adopts the same sort of outsider stance, but where Carroll seemed warm and vaguely amused, Maguire does not.

He also delves into slightly darker subject matter, exploring family relationships, prejudice and disability; though this is definitely to his credit. He seems to say; so what if this magical land were applied to a wider audience? What then? One of my favourite moments is when Ada enters wonderland and her restrictive back brace comes off, and she finds she is able to move freely.

He got inside characters heads remarkably well, and brought the magic and real worlds together beautifully. I enjoyed the different perspectives of all the different characters, and even seeing Alice from an outside view too. After doing some minimal research into Alice I could see, too, that Maguire’s novel draws on the academic pondering on Carroll’s life and of the ‘real’ Alice, which is clever and adds to the general Wonderland mythology.

His inventions within Wonderland were excellent too. We met familiar characters and familiar choices (‘Eat me’; ‘Drink me’) but also others: I liked the paper circus, the jungle, and many other parts.

I wonder mainly if Maguire’s motivation to write this was more of a personal project than to be a bestselling work of fiction.

Though, therefore, I do think this has a solid plot, great ideas, brilliant creativity and intriguing characters and I am genuinely glad to have read it, I wouldn’t go wild on recommending as the story is hidden between such dense prose. Perhaps, like Wicked, it needs to be made into a musical to really gain an audience.

Thanks so much to the publishers and to Bookbridgr for sending me a copy of this stunningly produced book. 

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