Monday, March 29, 2010

Brittaney Recently Finished {Alice I Have Been}:

Book Review: Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin

With all the fervor surrounding the new release of the classic tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I naturally "(said with three syllables, please) wanted to capitalize and bring to you a review of Alice I Have Been, a faux autobiography of Alice Liddell, the 7 year old girl who supposedly acted as muse and inspiration for the beloved children's classic.

I have to say I like the idea of the book. As a long time fan of Alice, I was really interested in the story behind story. Ms. Benjamin takes us through the middle Liddell's life starting as a young girl traipsing about the Oxford Quad with only her sisters and governess for company. The girls quickly befriend a nervous young mathematics professor who would later provide the world with one of the most iconic pieces of children's literature until J.K. Rowling. Charles Dodgson, who takes the pen name Lewis Carroll. The novel follows Alice as she grows from a curious and precocious child to a flirtatious and ambitious young lady. My favorite part of her grown up life might very well have been looking up the lineage of Queen Victoria. It was roumored that Prince Leopold courted the Liddell ladies. I think royal heritage is fascinating. Anyway, Alice must deal with her legacy not only as a famous fictional child but the scandal surrounding her relationship with Dodgson. And here is where author Benjamin gets carried away.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding Dodgson's relationship with the Liddells. Benjamin clearly suggests it was Dodgson's fascination with Alice that caused the family to break all ties with him. Channeling the Lolita effect, Benjamin wastes no time in delivering to the reader a sense that Dodgon likes little girls. But unlike Nabokov, she doesn't elicit any sympathy for the man. She certainly tries, but it just comes off creepy. So that bothered me throughout the novel.

Also I wasn't captivated by Benjamin's language. The voice she gave to Alice seems muddled and lacked a strong character. I'll give her some credit, the girl did grow to be a woman, but it wasn't subtle or elegant they way a Victorian lady is often praised to be.

Clearly inspired by the photo taken by Dodgon of Alice Liddell, Benjamin spends a good portion of the novel describing her fictional account of this day and its ramifications. I think it would have been better spent describing the day Dodgon began telling stories to the Liddell children to entertain them. Maybe she was trying to downplay Dodgon's storytelling skills, or maybe she just likes this photo.
Also, and I'm no author, I wonder what this novel would have been like with several narrators. Would it have been more compelling for a few different points of view? Food for thought.

It's an easy read. I wouldn't say go out and buy it now. Maybe wait for it to be in paperback or borrow from a friend who hopped on the Alice Bandwagon.

And speaking of Alice Bandwagon, there are plenty of things to get your fill of wonderland. You can always read the original.

Or see one of the three films, two by Disney and the other a youtube sensation.

Alice has certainly inspired generations. From photo shoots to dinnerware, Lewis Carroll has certainly left fingerprints on the hearts of millions, even if he wore gloves 100% of the time.

I say brew some hearty English tea and set up a croquet course in your yard. You'll probably have more fun! Or riddle me this: Why is a Raven like a writing desk?

I'm thinking about books for April, and since April is nation humour month, I think Kathy Griffin's autobiography, Kathy Griffin:Official Book Club Selection might be fitting. What do you think?

p.s. Both are almost never backwards.


  1. Oh my God!!! Carol!!!! You got me!

  2. I actually want to read Kathy's book, but have been slightly ashamed to admit it. You go first & send me a book package?


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