Two things drew me to this book: 1) the GORGEOUS cover! and 2) the fact that it was written by Alice Liddell’s (the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) great-granddaughter! Exciting!
I expected this to be a rich, dark, whimsical tale with some magical realism about the writing of my favourite children’s book. The cover also seemed to hint at this sort of story, but that if definitely not what this story is about. At all.
What’s it about:This is the story of the friendship between Lewis Carroll and young Alice Liddell, told through the eyes of the family’s governess, Mary. Mary is a fiercely ambitious woman who is strangely not fond of children at all, especially Alice, of whom she in intensely jealous. This is a book about the uptight standards of manners and propriety of the time and those things make people kind of insane.
“If society was made up of people speaking the truth, civilization might come to an end. We need manners.”
What I thought: Firstly, I was a bit disappointed that this wasn’t magical realism, it is a pure historical fiction (although inspired by real people and events). For the first half, I wasn’t such a fan of this book, I felt like nothing really happened, but then once things do start to happen, you realise that all those previous events that perhaps weren’t particularly exciting to you are becoming incredibly interesting as you watch Mary’s delusions grow and these previous events begin to twist as Mary falls further down the rabbit hole, so to speak, as she realises exactly what was going on.
“Women were supposed to want children more than anything else, Mary knew. Perhaps when she had her own she would feel the same way, though she could not imagine it. As far as she could see, children were like savages and it was her purpose to try to tame them until they could fit into the civilized world like everybody else.”
If you are the kind of person who cannot read a book unless you love the characters, this book is probably not for you, as every single character is awful. Even the children, especially little Alice. But although she’s a bit of a beast, I could find myself sympathizing with Mary. She is just a very unfortunate character as she just doesn’t fit societies ideal ‘woman’ of the time, and absolutely hates herself for it.
“But why is it rude to know someone’s age?”
“Because ladies are never meant to grow old, unfortunately for you. They are meant always to stick at one-and-twenty.”
There are also little sentences that are clearly meant to link the book to Alice in Wonderland which are like finding little easter eggs and I really loved those.
I did enjoy this book, but I am a die-hard Alice in Wonderland fan (with the tattoo to prove it!) and I am not sure whether this book would be exciting enough to keep a non-Alice-obsessed reader’s interest. I think this book was written for those of us who love Alice and crave more answers to those pieces of the puzzle that was the relationship between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll’s actual name). So if you are a die-hard Alice fan, you may really enjoy this.
I rate it 3/5 stars.
Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of this book for review.