Author: Gregory Maguire
Source: Copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Blurb: When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she found Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But how did Victorian Oxford react to Alice's disappearance?
Ada, a friend mentioned briefly in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, sets out to visit Alice but arrives a moment too late. Tumbling down the rabbit hole herself, she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and bring her safely home from this surreal world below the world.
Alice in Wonderland was the first book I ever read and so it is an important and well loved book for me. When I saw that this was a sort-of retelling of Alice in Wonderland I was very keen to see what Gregory Maguire would do with the characters and world.
At one point in the story the White Rabbit says "I think I like Alice better than you". And that is a definite problem for this story. Because I agree. I like Alice better than Ada, and Alice makes only a brief appearance at the end. Without Alice's whimsy and her own nonsensical way of thinking, which fits in so well in Wonderland, the story lost some of its charm. Ada was altogether too serious and, at times, so dull and the result was that the nonsense felt forced and like it generally didn't make sense.
Plot wise it feels like two separate stories. We have Ada in Wonderland on her quest to recover Alice and return home and then we have the characters back in the normal world - primarily Lydia, Alice's older sister. These two stories were so different in tone that it felt a little jarring to come out of one and into the other. Oddly enough I think that Lydia was the more interesting character to follow which made her sections a bit more enjoyable or at least interesting than Ada's.
There were times when Maguire managed to capture some of the silliness of Wonderland, the tea party resulted in some excellent nonsense and I did like The Wood of No Names. But none of the old favourite characters felt as alive as I would have liked and it was the newly introduced characters who felt more real, and yet less fun. The historical details of the book could have been interesting, the discussion of evolution and slavery - but not in this story. Here it just felt out of place and as a result didn't have the impact it could have done.
This was also, very often, a frustrating book to read. I generally think I have a good vocabulary but there were times, reading this, when I felt like I needed a dictionary on hand constantly. If anyone has seen that episode of Friends where Joey writes a letter and switches out every word for the most complicated synonym he can find? That's what this felt like.
It seems unfair to judge this book based on Alice in Wonderland but it is sold as a retelling and in that I was disappointed. There is a whimsy and a charm in the original Wonderland that is needed in any retelling or revisiting and for me that was definitely missing here. If this had been just a historical novel I may have enjoyed it more but even then there wasn't enough of an attachment to these characters for me to really enjoy reading about them. This was such a good premise and I was excited for it, but it just didn't live up to the promise.