From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis’s Carroll’s beloved classic
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.”
I’ve got a couple of Gregory Maguire books sitting on my shelf but haven’t read a single one yet; I keep saving them for a rainy day and getting distracted by other books. He wrote a moving, arm-hair-raising introduction to My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, and I’ve been looking forward to reading his fiction. So you can imagine my reaction when I heard that his next book was an Alice in Wonderland spinoff and that he was signing at BEA; it was one of the must-attend events on my schedule. However…I got stuck in over an hour and a half of traffic on the way to BEA and didn’t arrive in time to get a ticket for his signing. Later in the day, I saw a small pile of books on the ground at the Penguin Random House booth and asked a rep if I could take a copy of each. And that’s how I nabbed this ARC (along with an advance copy of Geraldine Brooks’s upcoming novel, The Secret Chord).
I had no idea what to expect from After Alice because the back cover merely displays a couple of paragraphs of text from the book (I found the above summary on Goodreads later). I figured it would take place after Alice had visited (and returned from) Wonderland. But it’s actually a sort of parallel narrative, following Alice’s neighbor Ada as she falls into Wonderland — you guessed it — after Alice.
Since having kids (and thereby finding myself with far less reading time), I’ve become a wholehearted proponent of the DNF (Did Not Finish). When I was younger, I would finish a book 99% of the time; I couldn’t bear to not see a story through, even if I was hating it. Now, though, I give it fifty pages, and if I’m still miserable, I jump ship. “Life’s too short to read bad books,” I often tell my husband. And then I immediately feel guilty for calling a book a “bad book” just because I didn’t like it or because it wasn’t for me at that point in my life. Still, though, I have far less free time lately and won’t muddle through something if I’m feeling like my time is being wasted.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that I almost didn’t finish this book. It took some time to get things moving, and I couldn’t see how the multiple plot lines would connect or why I should care about them. As time went by, though, I began to enjoy Ada as a character and was delighted by how different her experiences in Wonderland were than Alice’s. If you know Carroll’s Wonderland, you’ll find just enough of it here to make things similar without becoming boring. The Duchess is here, and the Mad Tea Party, and the White Queen and the White Knight, among others…but they interact with Ada differently than they do with Alice, and this is a story all its own.
I was delighted by the adventure and loopy logic, but also by the historic aspects. Ada’s journey to Wonderland doesn’t occur in a vacuum; there are people back in Oxford searching for her, and their stories and societal roles allow this to border on being a historic novel as well. Maguire examines the ideas of restraint and propriety, and how the levels of each differ depending on one’s lot in life, from clergy and governesses to escaped slaves and physically disabled children. Throughout the course of the day, the characters find freedom in various unexpected places, some aboveground and some below. I loved witnessing the breathing room that they found when routines were shifted and the shackles of polite society loosened a bit.
The only thing about this book that caused it to fall a bit short for me is how randomly-placed some of the asides are. There’s a thought-provoking examination of the effects of a town’s architecture on the sort of literature its residents produce, which I loved reading, but it takes place at the beginning of a chapter following the housekeeper, Mrs. Brummidge. It’s almost as if these thoughts are hers, but they’re clearly not because her character is far more straightforward and industrious than pensive. It’s almost as if the narrator (or Maguire himself? I’m not sure) is sprinkling his own thoughts here and there. They’re bright thoughts, but the way they fit into the narrative was a little shaky for me.
All in all: There’s a lot going on here, lots of food for thought as well as entertainment, and I ended up loving this book much more than I expected. Can’t wait to add it to my Alice shelf (which is overflowing…).