Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Title: After Alice
Author: Gregory Maguire

First line: Were there a god in charge of story -- I mean one cut to Old Testament specifics, some hybrid of Zeus and Father Christmas -- such a creature, such a deity, might be looking down upon a day opening in Oxford, England, a bit past the half-way mark of the nineteenth century.

Review: I wanted to like this book so much. I've somehow never read Maguire before, despite loving retellings, and given the slavish devotion so many have to Wicked, figured I finally needed to hop on the Maguire bandwagon. This book, however, was a massive fail for me, and I'm not entirely sure I'm going to attempt Maguire again.

This take on Alice in Wonderland follows Ada, an awkward and ungraceful playmate of Alice's, who stumbles into Wonderland, as well as Alice's older sister Lydia, who stays in the equally confusing real world.

Ada's story line -- a long bumble through the Wonderland -- was agonizingly slow for me. Maguire spoofs on Carroll's classic, and after a handful of pages, it triggered in me the same impatience with the nonsensical world that the original does. Worse, it felt as if it were going nowhere -- just cameo after cameo from the classic -- and in the end, I'm still not sure what the purpose of Ada's story was.

Lydia's story line was more intriguing, and I wish she had claim to the entire novel. A 15-year-old girl, now mistress of her home after her mother's death, floats uncertainly in her home. Her father is hosting the famous Darwin and a handsome American man. She imagines a courtship between them, but is treated by her father and the household staff as a child, tasked with keeping an eye on her sister, and the American's ward, a freed slave child named Siam.

In Lydia's story, there's an exploration of Victorian life for women, that challenging place between child and adult, the scars of slavery, and the clash of faith and science. But those exciting themes are only briefly tackled in the last 30ish percent of the novel.

I think I was frustrated with this book because I also found Maguire's style to be clunky to the extreme:
To a deity lolling overhead on bolsters of zephyr, however, the city rises as if out of some underground sea, like Debussy's La cath├ędrale engloutie, that fantasia about the submerged Breton cathedral rising once ever hundred years off the island of Ys. (Yes, Debusys is early twentieth century, but time means nothing to Himself.)

or bits like "sky could aspire to eternal bucholia" or "A vitality in the clouds suggested muscular air". I love me some tangled language but this felt so ornate and unnecessary.

Bottom-line: not a read for me, but maybe for others who love Maguire (and know what his style is like) and those who enjoy novels inspired by classic literature.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Victorian / Inspired By / Alice in Wonderland / Mythical Worlds / Slavery / Children)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow (10/27/15)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction


  1. No one is loving this book. I'm bummed because my book club has chosen it for January and I'm like a bulldog when it comes to my book club books. At least it's short.

  2. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister was a massive fail for me, and to date, the only books of his I love are the Oz books. Sigh.

  3. Sorry this book didn't work for you.

  4. I felt SO similarly about this one. I wanted to like it just wasn't happening for me.

  5. I loved the play Wicked and eagerly got the book.
    What a disappointment. I really did not like it.
    As a result I have avoided all his other books.

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as part of the tour.

  7. Ooof, I see I am not the only one that wants to like Maguire more than I do when I read his books. I read Wicked and it was 3-star but the two I attempted after were much like you describe this one --- I didn't even finish them.I applaud you do for doing so! He does seem to meander and the pace is always too slow to keep interest.

    I'm sorry this one didn't work out for you but now you know to avoid Maguire in the future at least :D

  8. I have this on my TBR and am hoping to like it better than you did. I have only read the one book, Wicked, by GM. I loved it. It was all of the political references that did it for me more than anything. He is an interesting author. It appears that not many people feel lukewarm about him anyway.