Title: After Alice
Author: Gregory Maguire
Publication Date: October 27, 2015
Format: Electronic Advanced Reading Copy
Rating: 3 stars
When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?
In this brilliant new work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings — and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late — and tumbles down the rabbit hole herself.
Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Euridyce can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is After Alice. (Goodreads)
Instead of re-imagining or retelling Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, After Alice parallels the plot of the classic with a new and unique story following Alice’s best friend Ada who accidentally follows her into Wonderland, then spends her entire time there looking for Alice. Meanwhile, Alice’s sister Lydia and Ada’s governess search for the missing girls and Charles Darwin pays a visit to Alice’s recently widowed father.
I’ve been a fan of Gregory Maguire’s writing ever since I read Wicked. (which, just in case you’re wondering, is absolutely nothing like the musical, so please don’t buy a copy for your 10-year-old daughter who loved the musical – I feel the need to clarify because I have had this conversation with parents while working in a bookstore. It’s slightly awkward.) I haven’t read everything Maguire’s done, but I love the way he tells a story. I particularly enjoyed Matchless, his retelling of The Little Matchstick Girl and his introduction to My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me was beautifully written. His style in this story has an almost dreamlike quality to it, which is very fitting for the subject. I wish I had read the original more recently, as I suspect Maguire may have written this novel with the intention of mirroring Lewis Carroll’s style. It felt a lot like the original as I was reading.
Beyond Maguire’s wonderful prose, however, I found myself somewhat ambivalent about the story itself. The only original content is the events at home while Alice is off in Wonderland, which isn’t necessarily unusual for Maguire since much of his writing is based on rewriting popular stories. However this novel felt even less original, as Ada’s story is basically just following along after Alice, meeting many of the same characters shortly after Alice. I was amused by Maguire’s version of the Jabberwock and how it tied in with Ada’s storyline, but I think that was the most interesting (and original) aspect of the entire tale and it came very near the end.
Style-wise this is a fitting companion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but it’s not my favorite of Maguire’s works. I didn’t dislike it enough to say that reading it was a waste of time – and in fact, it is rather a quick read – but I did find myself rushing through parts so I could finish the story faster and move on to other books I was more interested in reading.