Gregory Maguire, author of amongst others the ‘Wicked’ books, is known for his fictional novels in which he gives a new take on well known fantasy stories. He has recently published “After Alice”, in which Alice’s friend Ada follows her to Wonderland. We see the story we know so well through her eyes.
Although I have never read Maguire’s other books, I am familiar with the musical ‘Wicked’, which was based on his book. I was thrilled with the original take on the familiar ‘Wizard of Oz’ tale and hoped he had done the same to the Alice in Wonderland story. However, I am sorry to say that I was quite disappointed.
“After Alice” in fact tells two tales: the one about Ada, following Alice through the rabbit hole, and the one about Alice’s sister, Ada’s governess, and other people who remain in Oxford and have to deal with the disappearance of both girls.
About half of the chapters are dedicated to the events in real life, and they are very slowly paced. What is described, often feels somewhat repetitive. The chapters do paint an image of the Victorian class differences, and issues like slavery and evolution theory. But this story line is by far not interesting enough to warrant being given half of the book.
The other half is not as exciting as it could have been. We follow Ada past places and characters Alice recently visited, but also has not (yet) visited (Looking-Glass world appears to be one with Wonderland). Only in the end Ada’s story is surprisingly linked to Alice’s. Throughout the adventures, however, Ada has absolutely no (secret) influence on Alice’s experiences. Which is something I would have expected, judging by Maguire’s earlier books. And what would have made this book much more interesting.
Don’t expect a writing style like Carroll’s. Although Maguire did make up several puns and word play of his own (some more successful than others), his tone of voice is very different. It does not have the lightheartedness and playfulness I feel in the Wonderland books. It is, in fact, quite heavy.
Although much of the story is seen through the eyes of a child, it was certainly not told by one. “She couldn’t tell where the subtle light came from. It seemed inherent rather than solar.” No child would have formulated it this way! Or take the complex line: “It seemed there was nothing to be done but that Miss Armstrong must sit down.” Perhaps it is because I am no native English speaker, but sometimes I had to read a line twice before I knew what was being said.
His style of writing also sometimes made me feel as if the author was lingering in a dreamworld himself, speaking partly to me as a reader, partly to himself. Which prevented me from connecting to the story.
The writing style is not the only reason the book feels as a heavy read. It is also because of the gloomy mood that hangs over the story like a dark curtain.
While reading, I regularly got the feeling that the author was hinting at some underlying meaning, but I never actually grasped or recognized one. All in all, Maguire appears to only vaguely hint at Wonderland being like the Underworld, from which the children have to escape to be able to return to the land of the living. Death and an unhappy life are a theme throughout the book. Perhaps the author wants to tell us that imagination is the only way to survive an unhappy childhood – or maybe even adult life?
I also don’t understand why the author felt the need to change so many things in the ‘real’ world. Alice’s sister is not named Loreena Liddell. In stead, her name is Lydia Clowd, who’s mother has died and who’s father works in a library. She does have a cat named Dinah, with black and white kittens, but Maguire either did not bother to research the real Alice’s life any further, or for some reason found it necessary to change it for his own stories sake.
Also strange is the fact that when the year is mentioned (which happens twice), no exact number is given. In stead, we read that the year is ‘186_’.
So all in all, I was disappointed by this book, which could have been so much more. But perhaps I should have already suspected something when I noticed this was a book without pictures…
If you want to read the story for yourself, you can buy the book at Amazon.com.