Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Book description:
"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."

From the moment I started this engaging novel, I was pulled into the story, unable to put the book down until I finished. This well-imagined look at the life of Alice Liddell, the "real" Alice in Wonderland. Though I loved Alice in Wonderland, I had never read anything about the author or the inspiration before- this book has sparked a desire to pick up some non-fiction books on these fascinating characters.

I thought the author did a wonderful job with the voice and tone of the narrator- adult Alice looking back on a life lived in the shadow of her childhood self was both poignant and a little heartbreaking. Faced with a cold, even austere, mother and a manipulative, self-involved sister, Alice was obviously the odd child out from her behavior and dreams to her short bobbed hair. I can easily imagine that it was that difference, that sense that Alice was an adult in a child's body, that attracted and fixed the attention of a young Charles Dodgson with such split results (wonderful for literature, terrible for Alice).

Though the true story of what happened between Charles Dogson and Alice Liddell will likely never be known, this excellent novel by Melanie Benjamin rings true in both its ambivalence and its presentation of the motivations of the main characters. By far one of my favorite reads of the year, Alice I Have Been would be a welcome addition to any reader's library. Highly recommended!


Jeane said...

It sounds interesting. I've seen photos of Alice Liddell, and she did look so cold and remote. Though I always wondered if that was just the effect of old cameras- you had to hold so still for the shot.

Colleen said...

The books has a couple of pictures, and I agree that the one where she is around 20 is cold adn remote. I was most surprised by the beggar/gypsy girl photo taken when she was maybe 7- truly a disturbing photo in some ways, especially the look in that child's eyes. It was a great book though!

Anonymous said...

I have seen this around and heard mixed reviews of it, but I have to say, I looove the cover. I might read it just for that!

avisannschild said...

This sounds very intriguing! I'll have to keep an eye out for it.