The first book I ever read by Gregory Maguire was Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and it was fantastic. It was a different take on the classic Cinderella story and it was the first time I ever read a retelling. You could say that this is what got me into this genre in the first place. With After Alice, I had the awesome opportunity to buddy read this book with a bunch of bookish friends from my bookstagram account! Every week, we would meet up online to discuss the novel. As someone who hasn’t really analyzed a book since high school, it was nice to get back into that style of reading in an informal setting. Anyways, I’ve been blabbering for too long, let me get onto my review:
Summary (Goodreads): 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?
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.
Review: I actually read this book in 2 formats: physical book and audiobook. I was a bit worried that switching between these two would affect my perception of the story, but I am happy to say that it did not. But let’s get on to my actual feelings about this book.
This was not my favourite book by Gregory Maguire. In fact, I didn’t really like this book at all. I think that the problem I faced with this novel was that it was trying to do too much and accomplishing very little in the process.
This book is all about what happens after Alice goes to Wonderland, and the author decided to look at this in 2 ways: through Ada’s perspective as she goes searching for Alice, and through the perspective of Alice’s sister, Lydia, who is stuck in England and must find her there. The concept was great; we get a full picture of the effects of Alice’s disappearance. But the way the story was told just didn’t work for me.
For one thing, the sections with Lydia didn’t really interest me. I felt like Maguire made her character very unlikable and didn’t give her many strengths. I wish she had had some positives to her because it seemed really unfair that she shouldn’t have something to make her seem better. I also found that the descriptions of life in England, while interesting and historically accurate, were boring. I didn’t really want to read about decorum and debate about societal views and morals. I just wanted to go to Wonderland.
Now, when it came to Ada’s time in Wonderland, I was very intrigued. Ada is a very different character from Alice; she’s much more logical and mature, almost like an adult than a child. Seeing Wonderland through her eyes, and watching how she changes and finds her identity was amazing. I just wish there were more of it. Every time the story took me out of Ada’s chapter and into Lydia’s, I would groan on the inside. Ada’s journey was far more interesting and I liked her practical character very much.
There was also the introduction of another character named Siam. I really liked how the author was able to develop his story even without giving him a voice. But if I’m honest, his character was unnecessary. Siam barely got a chance in the spotlight and including him made me want to read more from his perspective – and left me feeling disappointed when he didn’t really get the chance to do so.
I also had a problem with the language. Now, I like to think that I have a pretty good grasp of the English language… but this book had my head spinning and not in a nice way. The overly flowery and descriptive language made it hard to get through the book and I would find my attention slipping away. Even if you are personifying the Victorian era, there is no need for the writing to be so difficult to understand, especially when there really isn’t anything meaningful being said. My biggest problem with the wording and language style of this book is that the author was deliberately using wordy language in an attempt to sound more impressive – but when you make your way through all that mess, you realize it’s really nothing that impressive at all. I did not like this at all; it felt like the experience was being cheapened for me.
My final thoughts about this book was that it could have been so much better. It was such an interesting concept but the author overcomplicated it by trying to put too many themes and characters in and not fully developing them. There was also the unnecessary language that had the opposite effect of seeming witty. While I enjoyed reading this in a buddy setting and I liked the revelations that we discovered as a group, this is not a book that I enjoyed. I’m giving this a 1.5/5 stars, rounded to 2.