Thursday, December 29, 2011

Julie's Review: Alice I Have Been

Summary:   Benjamin draws on one of the most enduring relationships in children's literature in her excellent debut, spinning out the heartbreaking story of Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Her research into the lives of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and the family of Alice Liddell is apparent as she takes circumstances shrouded in mystery and colors in the spaces to reveal a vibrant and passionate Alice. Born into a Victorian family of privilege, free-spirited Alice catches the attention of family friend Dodgson and serves as the muse for both his photography and writing. Their bond, however, is misunderstood by Alice's family, and though she is forced to sever their friendship, she is forever haunted by their connection as her life becomes something of a chain of heartbreaks. As an adult, Alice tries to escape her past, but it is only when she finally embraces it that she truly finds the happiness that eluded her. Focusing on three eras in Alice's life, Benjamin offers a finely wrought portrait of Alice that seamlessly blends fact with fiction. This is book club gold. 

Review: Alice I Have Been  is a riveting novel about the woman that the book Alice in Wonderland was based upon when she was a young girl in England. I will let you know that I'm not a fan of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the book and all the different movie versions but the story behind the famous novel is fascinating.

Alice is a wonderful person to read about as a child, young woman and older woman. She is a precocious 7 year old girl who loves to run around, get dirty and not be conventional. She is supposed to be prim and proper as are her sisters but she definitely is ahead of her time with her boldness. She loves to hear stories and Mr. Dodgson is her greatest source for delightful ones.  She loves spending time with him and for the majority of the time they are supervised. While at first I didn't think there was anything strange about their friendship, as I kept reading it started to give me goosebumps. More so because he was 20 years older than her and was seemingly obsessed with her. She was a child of 7 and then 10, who could not have known the implications of this relationship, even with as smart as she was at the time. Do I think anything questionable happened between them? No, I don't. I really believe that Mr. Dodgson thought of Alice as his muse and searched the rest of his life for another one, only to never find it.

Alice's life became all encompassed by the novel and the situation surrounding it. She could never really get over her past or come to terms with it until the end of her life. She always felt bound to Mr. Dodgson and the story and the toll it took on her reputation. What kind of reputation occurs at 10? It wasn't her reputation that was hit, it was the family and for that her mother could never forgive her.

I think Alice was starved for attention and love, that is why she clung to Mr. Dodgson during her formative years. Her mother was too wrapped up in the social aspect of being the Dean's wife or being pregnant to ever really take notice of her, except of course if she was doing something wrong.  Was her mother a product of the times? Of course, but I felt that she was down right cruel to Alice. It was obvious she had no clue what to do with a girl who didn't fit into the box.  I also felt that it was her mother that destroyed any happiness that Alice might have had with Prince Leopold. I think she sabotaged that relationship because Alice wasn't the daughter she had chosen for the Prince. This was the part of the novel that caused me to take refuge in my bathroom so my kids wouldn't see me crying and ask all kinds of questions.

I wouldn't say that Alice had an unhappy life, but I do think her life would have been much happier had she dealt with her childhood. It took tragedy in her adult life to make her take hold and reclaim her past, which gave her the calm she so desired.

If you are a fan of historical fiction books, than you should definitely not miss this tale of the real Alice in Wonderland.  Melanie Benjamin is an author that I will continue to read for years to come. In fact, her latest The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is going on my wish list today.

Final Take: 4.25/5



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