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Book Review: Alice I Have Been

By Storycarnivores @storycarnivores

Book Review: Alice I Have BeenTitle: Alice I Have Been
Author: Melanie Benjamin
Series: N/A
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publish Date: 2/14/12
Genre: Historical
Pages: 368
Source: Local Indie Bookstore
Buy the Book: ">">Alice I Have Been">">

SUMMARY: Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.

But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?

Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.

For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.(via Goodreads)

SHAUNTA’S REVIEW: Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Alice Liddle who inspired an imaginative math professor at Oxford University to write a fantasy story that became nearly universally loved throughout the world. The professor, of course, took on the pen name Lewis Carroll. And the little girl was his Alice in Wonderland. The story still sparkles, more than 100 years later.

But behind the story, was a strange story that no one really knows the truth of. Neither Alice nor Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) ever spoke about why their previously close relationship was abruptly ended when she was 11 years old. Rumor around Oxford at the time was that he asked permission from her parents to marry her. Melanie Benjamin took some creative liberties in trying to figure out what happened–making Alice I Have Been a novel about real people, rather than a biography.

A few years ago, for a literature class, I did a deep study of Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita. That book haunted me. It is so beautifully written, and so deeply disturbing at the same time. It is, of course, the story of a little girl seduced, told from the perspective of the seducer–who at the end, it turns out, was also seduced himself. While I wouldn’t compare the writing of Alice I Have Been to Nabokov (Lolita is in a class of its own, truly), the story took me to that same place. It was a pretty, magical story, that was also intensely creepy and disturbing. Only this time, it was told from the point of view of the little girl. The idea of seeing an obvious predator through the eyes of his prey at such a young age, told through the lens of more than 70 years, was interesting and made for a compelling read.

Benjamin didn’t make Alice perfect in her novelization of her life. She was kind of a shit, actually. She called all her maids Mary Ann, because it was easier. She couldn’t make herself truly love her youngest son, because he didn’t live up to her more perfect older sons. She was mean to her nanny. But she was also human, and that’s the point. Alice was real. She wasn’t what Carroll made her. She fell in love, but couldn’t be with him because his mother was the queen and rumors still circulated that the math professor who’d made her famous wanted to marry her when she was eleven. She lost her favorite sons to World War I. She was real, and Benjamin did a great job of making that clear.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a slow read for me, because parts of it were so upsetting that I had to read a little bit at a time. If you don’t know the story behind the writing of Alice in Wonderland, and would rather not have it ruined for you, this is not the book for you. Walk away. But, if the historical truth–with a healthy dose of supposition–is your thing, you’ll enjoy Alice I Have Been. It’s well written. Benjamin manages to maintain a sort of fairy tale tone throughout, aided by the idyllic Victorian setting. The story is haunting enough that it’s stuck with me since I finished reading it.

As a writer, Alice in Wonderland, has informed my work. I know it has, even though I’ve never written a straight take on it before. The idea of a character literally falling into another world has probably informed the writing of every author everywhere for more than 100 years. That there is a dark underbelly to the reality behind the fantasy gives it a new perspective.

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