Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review and Book Tour Stop: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

I have vivid memories of reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll--I even remember the musty smell of the library book that transported me to the crazy world of Wonderland. But I had never really thought about the author or whether he had based Alice on any actual person. Then, over the last few months, I saw a few mentions of Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin (which was released on January 12) and I became intrigued.

Alice in Wonderland has lived on in our popular culture and our memories, but who was the real Alice? This book seeks to shed some light on the subject, and reconstructs what facts remain into this historical fiction novel telling the story of Alice's life. Alice Pleasance Liddell was Lewis Carroll's inspiration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland--she was actually the one who insisted that he write the story down. The description from the author's website summarizes the story a lot better than I can, so here you go:
Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.
Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.
That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.
For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.
A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.
Alice I Have Been is a fascinating and moving work of historical fiction that imagines what the real Alice was like. Ms. Benjamin has done quite a bit of research into what records remain about Alice Liddell and her friendship with Charles Dodson (aka Lewis Carroll). She proposes a possible explanation for the break in their friendship and gives voice to the frustrations and sorrows that Alice must have felt during her unusual lifetime.

This book was a pleasure to read, once I got past Alice's childhood. For some reason, even though nothing bad/sick/scary happened, I was still really uncomfortable with the portrayal of Charles Dodgson's relationship with the young Alice. Scholars and observers are divided on what the actual nature of their relationship was. Some would claim that Carroll had an unhealthy fascination with young girls, while others explain that his photography of young girls was just a small portion of the many photographs he took during his lifetime and that he had normal relationships with adult women. The image of Dodgson in this novel was that he perhaps was in love with Alice on a certain level but never acted on it, and that Alice was infatuated with him as a girl.

Alice I Have Been does a wonderful job of weaving together fact and fiction, and the Alice that emerges from the pages is a passionate woman whose life didn't end up quite how she had envisioned it. As a child, she wanted Dodgson to write down the story of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" so she would never grow up--the story would keep her young forever. But as she grows older she wishes she could leave that Alice behind. Alice in Wonderland haunts her every move, and she begins to see it as an unhappy reminder of her childhood and events that knocked her life off-course. It is sad to watch her suffer, but at the same time her difficulties help her to finally face and embrace the past that she had been trying so hard to escape.

I really enjoyed this book. It gave me a new topic to do a bit of amateur research on (just had to learn more about Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson!) and I really enjoyed learning more about the girl who inspired a book that I so enjoyed as a child. It was immensely interesting to learn about her life after Alice was published.

Rating: ★★★★ 4/5 stars. I really liked it!

If you'd like to read more about author Melanie Benjamin, click here to visit her website, and click here for a reading guide and some discussion questions.

Melanie Benjamin’s ALICE I HAVE BEEN VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ‘10 officially began on January 4th and will end on January 29. You can visit Melanie’s blog stops at during the month of January to find out more about this great book and its talented author.

To purchase the book, visit The Book Depository or an independent bookseller of your choice.

Source: Special thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for including me as a part of this tour and for providing me with a review copy of the book.


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