Every month, Katy and I swap books – we pick a book for each other from our stacks, and
force gently encourage the other to read it. Last month this read to me reading My Lady Jane, which I probably wouldn’t have picked up for ages. This month I’m reading Alice, which I also wouldn’t have picked up otherwise… because I hate fairytale retellings. So that’s fun.
Plot summary for Alice:
In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.
In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood… Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful. And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.
Star Rating for Alice: * * (two stars)
So I’m not generally a massive fan of fairytale retellings – I just don’t understand why anybody would want to read the same story over and over again. I feel it’s often used to prop up a story that couldn’t stand on its own two feet. I get bored of reading about the same characters. I therefore wasn’t overly thrilled when Katy chose Alice for my July book, although I went into it expecting to be bored, at worst. Weirdly, however, the fairytale references ended up being the only thing I liked about this book.
Almost appropriately for an Alice retelling, it’s full of nothing and nonsense.
Alice through the looking glass.
The first feeling I had is that I’d come into the series having started with the second book. I had to go and check that there wasn’t a first installment that I’d missed. The plot is partly that Alice has lost her memory and doesn’t remember anything that happened to her, and that’s fine. I can be on board with that. But I also felt that I didn’t know what was going on and so I had no investment in any of the characters.
That’s partly because they’re also very two dimensional. We follow Alice and Hatcher, both of whom have only negative qualities. I was surprised towards the end of Alice to find out that Alex is twenty six years old; her behaviour had led me to believe she was about fourteen. She is whiny, and cries, and sits on Hatcher’s knee (!) to sob on multiple occasions. Their relationship is odd, and forced, and there is precisely zero chemistry or interest there that I can see.
‘Cheshire’ is an interesting character. The writing manages to link back to his original incarnation, whilst also giving him an actual purpose within Alice. I liked the way he was designed and neatly slotted in. Just not so much with everybody else.
To think CS Lewis meant this for children…
It’s very rapey. Very rapey. Although nothing of this nature happens ‘on-screen,’ it is referenced at least every other page. Every female character in this has been raped multiple times, and it is described in far more detail than I needed. Why is it necessary? Why is the purpose of every woman only to be raped!? It’s also very violent, often at the same time, and sometimes gratuitously. I don’t mind (fictional) violence or rape if it essential to the plot, but it was just far too over the top.
Rape, cannibalism, violence, mutilation, torture, coercion, slavery… you name it.
The ending, oof. It’s so very, very rushed. The whole thing is over in about six pages and it’s painfully anti-climactic. The entire book had been building to this point and then it’s just sort of… over.
The writing itself isn’t great; the style keeps changing, phrases are repeated multiple times, the dialogue is stilted, etc. But the ending just encompasses everything that’s wrong with Alice. Although nobody gets raped for a change, so there’s that.
Curiouser and curiouser.
I did not expect that the sole thing I appreciated about Alice was the fairytale references. That is very much the opposite of what usually happens! However, this book incorporates some of the Wonderland aspects in really interesting ways – the Eat Me/Drink Me items, the caterpillar, the walrus, etc.
I haven’t read the original in a while (and it’s not my favourite children’s classic, anyway), but I did appreciate that the references didn’t feel shoved in or unnatural. They were genuine, necessary parts of the story.
It’s probably evident by now that I didn’t like Alice very much. I had low expectations, but I ended up disliking it even more than that… and liking the very parts I had expected to hate!
I won’t be going onto the next book; there just isn’t enough here to keep me engaged.
Read a more positive review of Alice at Ida’s Bookshelf.