Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Latest Fave

Kudos to Cover Designer
The first thing I need to say is that I adore Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) could've been the biggest pervy mathematician ever to grace the hallowed halls of Oxford University (and I'm not saying he was), but he was still the cleverest and funniest and most creative. For sheer reading-aloud delight, it's hard to beat him. My twelve-year-old and I even recite bits to each other, the way some families might chant movie lines. Only Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books come close for charm and chuckles. Close, but it's all Alice.

So when I came upon Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been on the "Choice Reads" shelf at the library, I was ambivalent. Why spoil a beloved book with a fictionalized behind-the-scenes? Just think how The Other Boleyn Girl forever ruined that hottie Henry VIII for me! (Kidding. Though the nasty, open, ulcerated sore in his leg that tortured him in older age was really, really attractive.) But the reviews of Benjamin's book and the cover design were too enchanting. I read. And I'm glad I did.

My Goodreads review:
ALICE I HAVE BEEN tells the story of the woman behind ALICE IN WONDERLAND in three main episodes: her childhood at Christ Church, Oxford, and unique--to say the least--relationship with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll); her young-womanhood and relationship with a son of Queen Victoria; and her middle- and old-age when WWI brings her both tragedy and ultimate understanding.

I was surprised to love this book like I did because I generally steer clear of novels about famous historical people, but this one was excellent. Benjamin's writing is gorgeous and "Alice's" voice so winning. She managed to get inside the Victorian mindset and make Dodgson sympathetic, rather than creepy (a bachelor don who spends all his time with young girls, taking their photographs???). Loved how Alice was flawed, complex, humorous, innocent yet knowing. Her character trajectory over the course of the book was entirely believable.

My only quibble (and it won't bug many people) is that, because the final episode takes place outside Oxford and introduces her husband and sons, it was too late for me to care about them and therefore too late for me to care much what happened to them. In fact, they just got in the way, because every time she seemed on the verge of a revelation about what "happened" with Mr. Dodgson, some son was always interrupting or being blown to bits or whatever. Like I said, it's a quibble.

All in all, I blitzed through this, spellbound.

Alice got me thinking about real people crying out to be fictionalized. Heck, I already leaped on the paranormal romance bandwagon to write Everliving, so should fictionalized-famous-folks be next? But who? English Kings and Queens have been done to death. Jane Austen can bear no more. Florence Nightingale? I'd have to invent a romance and gloss over her decades spent "dying" in her bed. Anne Bronte, the always overlooked? She could pitch a fit at Emily Bronte's gravesite: "Good riddance! It's always Emily, Emily, Emily! Heathcliff this, Wuthering that! Why will no one read my The Tenant of Wildfell Hall??? And shut up, Charlotte--I hate you, too!"

Hmm...potential there. Any ideas? Someone you're dying to know more about--even more than there might possibly have been?

1 comment:

  1. Mary Todd Lincoln or Martha Washington...hey, you could do a series focusing on early First Ladies!