October 1, 2009

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin: Review

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Who was the real Alice in Wonderland? A little blonde girl in a white pinafore? If you think that, you'd be surprised. Melanie Benjamin got the idea for Alice I Have Been after seeing photographs Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) took of little girls. One in particular caught her attention: Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired Alice in Winderland, in a rather inappropriate outfit for Victorian times, a worldly gaze on her face. Alice once again inspired a novel.

Alice I Have Been explores the life of Alice. She is an enigma. She rarely spoke of Alice in Wonderland until later in her life when she sold the original version of the book. Her relationship with Dodgson is also a mystery. What caused the rift between him and Alice when she was just eleven? The story continues into her twenties with a rumoured romance with a prince and into her life as a mother. She had her fair share of sorrow.

When I started reading Alice I Have Been, I had a hard time getting into it. It started out slowly. Alice as a little girl wasn't easy to warm up to either. She seems one part naive child, one part coquette. Then there's Dodgson. What's his deal? I found myself creeped out when reading the parts when they were alone. Was he an eccentric who liked little girls or weirdo who liked little girls?

But then I ended up hooked on the book as the story flashed forward to Alice as a young woman.

She's feisty, intelligent and strong. Her romance with the prince is both tender and heartbreaking. I wanted so much for Alice to have a happy ending but her 'past' always follows her. The repressive society of Victorian England is personified in Alice's mother who's all about keeping up appearances.

I don't think Benjamin's portrayal of Alice is too far off when you look at Alice as a young woman. Doesn't this look like a defiant chick you?

Towards the end of the book, while at times I was frustrated with Alice, I still admired her feistiness. I felt the book came full circle and my questions were answered. Keep in mind that this is a novel, a fictional view of Alice, but it's still interesting to think of the possibilities.

I imagine Alice and Lewis Carroll will become a hot topic the closer we come to the release of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

Visit Melanie Bejamin's website.

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13 comments :

  1. 'Was he an eccentric who liked little girls or weirdo who liked little girls?'

    Hilarious. Sounds an interesting one.

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  2. Very interesting find, this one.

    Oh lord I am so unhappy with what I've seen of Tim Burton's film so far and I love the Depp, Burton, Carter partnership.

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  3. I have this book and I can't wait to read it. I am glad and relieved to see that you enjoyed it and it isn't a disappointing book at all.

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  4. Wow! That sounds so good - I can't wait to read it!

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  5. Ooooh, that sounds really good! i'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for it! :)

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  6. Michelle- Real lives always are the most interesting.

    Jodie- I have no idea what to think of the movie. I'm sure it will be different.

    Lilly- I almost gave up on it but it really grew on me.

    Kathy- Great!

    Court- Please do!

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  7. I never knew he liked to take pictures of little girls. It doesn't surprise me though.

    Great post! I loved the pictures!

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  8. Sounds good! Off to add it to my wish list.

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  9. I saw this one on LT Early Reviewers and I think it looks like it has tons of potential. I'll need to keep my eye out for this one!

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  10. Oh man! I've definitely got to read this one. My senior seminar in college was on Lewis Carroll and after reading a wonderful biography (by Cohen...can't easily find my copy for the rest of the details), I felt I better understood Dodgson--I honestly think he was an eccentric who liked little girls, not a weirdo who liked little girls. Kind of a tragic life--both of them!

    LOL--just read your last sentence. A novel, huh? Well, if you're looking to kill some time, read the Cohen biography. Fascinating!

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  11. I think I'd like to pick up this book despite the slow beginning. Great review!

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  12. my interest is certainly peaked. glad to hear the story answered questions of what could have been.

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  13. I finished reading it last night. This will be an excellent choice for book groups to discuss.

    I agree that the first section was hard to get through (perhaps it was the tremendous foreboding: that Something Awful is going to happen and then did happen but no one was going to talk about it). As Alice grew older she was more in control, so the second section goes faster and the third section faster yet. In fact, her marriage and family life at Cuffnells could be a novel in itself.

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