Author Michelle Rene wrote a novella in which an old Alice Liddell looks back on the events that caused ‘the Liddell riddle‘. In this mixture of fiction and facts, we learn why the friendship between Charles Dodgson and Alice ended and almost all contact ceased.
“The Dodo Knight” is a short story (just a little over 100 pages) of the ‘historical fiction’ genre. It takes place in the Victorian era and uses everything we know about Charles Dodgson and the Liddell family, to tell ‘the true story’ of what happened between them to cause the rift we are still speculating about. Of course, that story was made up by the author, who is merely ‘filling the gaps in history’, as she calls it, with her own take on what might have happened.
Don’t fear: it’s not one of these books that contributes to the spreading of false claims and speculations – in the afterword, Rene clearly explains which parts were made up. Still, it is a book that can be received quite differently, depending on how much you know about the circumstances and the backgrounds of the main characters, and depending on how much you detest the idea that Dodgson could have had a love relationship with one of the Liddells.
Personally I am not too keen on the latter, but the author makes it clear enough that it is fiction for me to consider it harmless.
The story is told in a conversational style, with Alice Liddell being the narrator. During the prologue, she actively addresses us readers. In the next chapters, she merely recalls the events and it feels like she forgot about us and is talking to no one in particular. The story is very focused: Alice tells us everything we need to know about the events that led to the break-up between her and Dodgson, and some musings about her later life, but hardly anything else. It is as if she had to tell the true story to the world before she can pass away, and we just happened to find the writings of an old lady.
We know Alice liked pictures and conversations, but sadly, the pictures are lacking in her tale.
Several situations and conversations Alice describes, are precursors to scenes and lines that will eventually appear in the published “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (although that is not what actually happened and inspired Dodgson).
Rene has obviously done her homework. Although she admits she is by far no expert regarding the lives of Dodgson and the Liddells, she does weave an enormous load of facts through the story. A bit much, for my taste.
I recognize too many (or should I say, all) of the facts that she has crammed into almost every single paragraph of text. To me it therefore reads somewhat as a summary of Alice Liddell’s (and Charles Dodgson’s) biography, only written from a personal perspective. However, I can imagine that other people will be able to read it more as an actual story.
There are some small factual errors, like the manuscript being called “Alice’s Adventures Underground” (in stead of “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”) and the name of a journalist being given as “Florence Lemon” in stead of “Florence Lennon”, but I won’t nitpick about that too much.
All in all, it is a nice novella, but it failed to really make an emotional connection between me as the reader, and the characters. Only the description of the very last meeting between Alice and Dodgson made me tear up a bit. That being said: if you don’t have too many expectations, it will be a nice read.
The story will be officially released on April 10 and it will be available as a paperback and as an ebook. You can already pre-order it now.