Review: After Alice, concluding thoughts

“All of life hinges on what one does next, until finally one makes the wrong choice. But was this that moment?” 

“Alice, I’m coming.”

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After Alice, by Gregory Maguire, tells the story of what was happening in Alice’s world after she chased the white rabbit and fell down the rabbit hole. It can be a difficult book to read and follow, especially the first few chapters, but the more I read the easier (and better) it got. The more I read, the more I liked it, and by the end I really liked it. It isn’t going on my “Favorite Books” list, but I liked it well enough to maybe read it again one day. It isn’t a long novel, but it also isn’t a quick read.

In between the telling of the actual story the author inserts thoughts and lectures on a variety of topics– philosophy, theology, evolution, architecture, even the city of Oxford itself. It’s all very smart and interesting, but it’s also what makes the book difficult to understand at times. The topics the author touches on, and themes he hints at, add to the novel in a way I can barely comprehend- I can’t deny that. But you really could take those parts out of the book and the story itself would remain in tact.

After Alice switches back and forth between the underworld and the “upper world.” The narration also switches from character to character. Usually I don’t like this in a book, sometimes I absolutely despise it, but in this case it wasn’t so bad and it didn’t bother me that much.
Alice is mentioned throughout the story, and we learn a lot about her peculiar personality, but she isn’t an active character in this novel. She doesn’t appear until the very end and has only a few lines of dialogue, but they’re great. Quintessentially Alice.

The main characters are Alice’s older sister Lydia, her friend Ada, and Ada’s governess, Miss Armstrong. The reader learns a lot about Alice’s older sister Lydia, which I found really interesting. You also learn a great deal about Ada, “a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” (Many of the well known characters from the original Wonderland novel are also in After Alice– the Mad Hatter and the hare, the White Rabbit, the White Queen, and the Queen of Hearts, as well as others.)

Ada is a curious character and I liked her. There is a lot of description about her physical appearance. She is described as having a “distortion in her skeletal structure,” and walks with “a stoop and a gimp.” In an attempt to correct this Ada has to wear an iron corset, and all of this comes into play throughout the story.

We also learn a little about the members of Ada’s family, her quiet father the Vicar, her “dropsical” mother, and her new-born baby brother who has a large impact at the start of the story. I found it both fascinating and annoying that the author referred to the baby in 15 different ways within the span of only 5 pages!
Good god, I had no idea what the hell was going on at first! It took me forever to understand that the author was only talking about a colicky or sick baby. The problem was he didn’t just come out and say it. Apparently Mr. Maguire has something against clarity! Or maybe laziness. Gregory Maguire wants you to work for the story, he isn’t going to just hand it over to you, you mental loafer!
So, as I was saying, Ada’s baby brother is referred to in 15 different ways in the space of only 5 pages. First it’s the poor creature and then pink smudge of infant, infant in peril, wretched offspring,
“His Lordship the Infant Tyrant”
“The Tiny Interruption”
“Boy Boyce,” etc.

There are also several minor, but very interesting characters. Mrs. Brummige and Rhoda, two servants in Alice’s household.  Mr. Winters, an American man visiting England with his adopted son. Siam, Mr. Winters’ adopted son, a young boy rescued from slavery in the South. And, the biggest surprise character of all, Darwin. Yes, the Darwin is a character in After Alice.

So, as I said, even though I got off to a rough start with After Alice, in the end I really liked it. Actually, it was the surprise, very clever plot twist at the end of the book that sealed the deal. There is a very unexpected “witness” in the trial at the Queen’s garden party- it’s brilliant! I loved it. I also think I got more out of After Alice because I had previously read Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, so I definitely recommend that.

Also recommended, Confessions of An Ugly Step-Sister.
“An arresting hybrid of mystery, fairy tale, and historical novel. . . . Confessions . . . isn’t easy to classify or forget.”
  -The Detroit Free Press. (From the back of the After Alice book jacket.)

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A hybrid of mystery, fairy tale, and historical novel that isn’t easy to classify?!
How could I not read it! How can I not accept this challenge? Because a challenge it will most definitely be. A friend of mine told me a few weeks ago that she read Confessions, and she confessed to encountering the same difficulties that my mother-in-law and I had with Wicked and After Alice- a hazy, patchy style of storytelling, too many obscure words, a lot of philosophical sidebars that do not seem to further the plot or character development. She said she didn’t know what was going on until several chapters into the book, and even then the story still wasn’t very clear most of the time.
Still, I don’t think I’ll be able to resist reading it.

However, that won’t be until September or October at the earliest. The next book I’m reading is, of course, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

 

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Quotes: After Alice

When I share my (many) thoughts on a book I’ve read, one thing I really like to do- one thing I feel compelled to do- is list my favorite quotes. Because I have so many thoughts on Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, and because I found so many interesting quotes, I decided it would be best to break it up into two parts, which will actually make it three parts as I already did a First Impressions review on June 26th. That was only about 16 or 17 days ago but feels as though it was months ago!

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A full review subtitled “Concluding Thoughts” will be posted next Sunday, July 16th.
This book was full of clever and witty quotes, but I had to narrow it down. The following lines are my favorite quotes from After Alice. Some of them are repeats from my First Impressions post.

 

” . . . where in all these enterprises of thought and institution is Lydia herself?  What is the character of Lydia, and where the soul of Lydia . . .

“And where, for that matter, is Alice?”

“It’s as if a botanical display and an athletic contest and a gypsy circus have all set themselves up in a hippodrome of some sort.”

“Up until ten minutes ago, Ada had not had much experience in the practice of imagination.”

“Miss Armstrong was aware that imagination, often a cause of temptation and unrest, could also serve the soul. . .”

” . . . . the tilting of an eyebrow. This was too obscure a hieroglyphic for the Vicar to decipher, no matter how Miss Armstrong concentrated the pure fire of her being in the muscles of her forehead. One day she would self-immolate . . . . Spontaneous combustion caused by an eyebrow left to smolder a moment too long.”

“The world pauses for royalty and deformity alike, and sometimes one can’t tell the difference.”

“Her gait was still lopsided, but so was the world, so she kept on.”

“Evolution a mighty power, could it yield up creatures capable of argument.”

“I have no use for tea, after all. My mother has died . . .  She is, consequently, dead. She had a big head like mine and Alice’s and it’s my opinion that it simply exploded.”

“The instinct toward panic, once experienced, cannot be unlearned.”

“The Queen of Hearts has a robust temper, you see. And anger gives one an appetite. So her edible guests do try to keep her from losing her temper.”

“I understand there is to be an execution.”
“What is to be executed?” asked the Lion.
“Manners and fine taste . . . .” 

They were going to the garden party . . . and we will be wanting to get there before long.” [Said Ada.] You may want that,” said the White Queen.I want peace among all nations. Either that or lemon drop, I can’t decide.”
(Lemon drop?  A nod to Professor Dumbledore? I suspect so, because the White Queen also has a magic cloak.)

“My,” said Ada, laying the dead rose on the peaty moss. “Life is a very cheap thing here.”
“Cheap and dear all at once,” said the Rose from her grave. “That’s the thing. You’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

” . . . the White Queen and the White Knight. Generally adults were a failure, but these two managed failure well.”

“All of life hinges on what one does next, until finally one makes the wrong choice. But was that this moment?”

“She had no intention of stripping to her smalls in a court of law, however deranged the audience.” 

Though usually a dreamer of commonplace notions, once in a while Ada had enjoyed dreams of flying. So she was hardly surprised to find herself not only capable but skilled at this . . . She moved upward in a spiral . . . She disobeyed earlier advice and looked up rather than down.

” [The] essayist’s point is about the urgency of not being dislodged from one’s deepest beliefs. No matter how beset one might be.”
“Perhaps we are meant and made to shift our beliefs.”
“If we are ‘made’ or ‘meant,’ then someone must have made or meant us.”

 

 

 

 

Review: Ripple, the Water-Spirit

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I don’t know how in the world I didn’t know about this story before…

Back in February I bought myself a book at Barnes & Noble, The Snow Queen and other winter tales, a collection of 100 short stories. I’ve been working my way through the book and really enjoying it. There are some amazing stories in there, but Ripple, the Water-Spirit overshadowed them all. I was blown away! It’s amazing! Not only is the plot flawless, the writing is amazing as well. It’s an incredible story. Obviously, I’m very excited about it!  I had very high hopes for The Snow Queen and other winter tales, but still I was very surprised by Ripple, the Water-Spirit, it definitely exceeded my expectations. Even more surprising was the author- Louisa May Alcott. I did not expect a fantasy story from the author of Little Women.

All I knew of Louisa May Alcott was Little Women, I did not know that she also wrote and published a small book of fairytales Little Women is one of my favorite novels and is definitely on my ‘books-that-saved-my-life’ list. I was very influenced by its innocence and wholesomeness. I had never read anything like it, it was so tame, so sweet, so domestic and down-to-earth, but Ripple, the Water-Spirit is almost the complete opposite. It’s just as smart, sweet, and inspiring as Little Women, but far less tame, and definitely not at all domestic or down-to-earth.

“So farewell to the pleasant earth, until we come again. And now away, up to the sun!”

The story is about Ripple and the journey she undertakes to bring a little boy back to life because his mother is so bereft. Ripple is, as the title states, a water-spirit. In the story “spirit” and “Fairy” are used somewhat interchangeably so I gathered that a water-spirit is a sort of fairy.
In order to bring the little boy back to life, Ripple must get a flame from the fire-spirits. The problem is that the fire-spirits live next to the sun!

“It is far, far away, high up above the sun, where no Spirit ever dared to venture yet…” 

Even though some try to dissuade her, Ripple is still determined to keep her promise to the grieving mother. She leaves the sea and comes to dry land in search of someone who can tell her the way to the fire-spirits’ home. One by one, Ripple encounters the four Seasons of the year- first Spring, then Summer, Autumn, and Winter. The personification of the seasons is some of Alcott’s best work in the story.

Soon she saw Spring come smiling over the earth; sunbeams and breezes floated before, and then, with her white garments covered with flowers, with wreaths in her hair, and dewdrops and seeds falling fast from her hands, the beautiful season came singing by.

 

“Now I must seek for summer,” said Ripple…
“I am here, what would you with me, little Spirit?” said a musical voice in her ear; and, floating by her side, she saw a graceful form, with green robes fluttering in the air, whose pleasant face looked kindly on her from beneath a crown of golden sunbeams that cast a warm, bright glow on all beneath.

 

…with bright wreaths of crimson leaves and golden wheat-ears in her hair and on her purple mantle, stately Autumn passed, with a happy smile on her calm face, as she went scattering generous gifts from her full arms.

 

…Winter, riding on the strong North-Wind, came rushing by, with a sparkling ice-crown in his streaming hair, while from beneath his crimson cloak, where glittering frost-work shone like silver threads, he scattered snow-flakes far and wide…
“Do not fear me; I am warm at heart, though rude and cold without,” said Winter, looking kindly on her, while a bright smile shone like sunlight on his pleasant face, as it glowed and glistened in the frosty air.

Each Season gives Ripple a gift to help her on her journey. From Spring she receives a breeze that will “never tire nor fail”, from Summer a sunbeam, from Autumn a yellow leaf, and from Winter a snowflake that will never melt.

“Now, dear Breeze,” said Ripple, “fly straight upward through the air, until we reach the place we have so long been seeking; Sunbeam shall go before to light the way, Yellow-leaf shall shelter me from heat and rain, while Snow-flake shall lie here beside me till it comes of use.” 

Each of the first three gifts has an obvious use- the breeze is her means of transportation, the sunbeam is to light the way, the leaf is for shelter and comfort, but what about the snowflake?

At this point in the story I was both very excited and on the verge of being a little disappointed. I was thrilled that Winter gave her an eternal, never melt snowflake- I love the idea of a magic snowflake! But I was disappointed because it didn’t seem to have much use. You see, I have a thing for snow. Some people have a thing for hearts or roses, dolphins or sea turtles, tigers or butterflies- I like snow. I even have a snowflake tattoo on my wrist. So, I wanted the snowflake to be special. I wanted it to be the best of all the gifts that Ripple received. Snow never gets to be the best! It’s always the sun! And for a minute there it looked like that was going to happen again. When Ripple laid the snowflake to the side I got concerned that it was going to play only a minor role, or not appear again until as an after-thought in the end.

Well, in this story, snow got to be the hero for once. Finally!
That’s probably one of the main reasons I adore this story. There was just so much about it that was unexpected. In the end, it is the snowflake that saves Ripples life. Winter’s magic snowflake is the final and most important piece she needs in order to complete her quest. And I noticed something else interesting about that. Ripple is a water-spirit and she’s saved by a snowflake, i.e. frozen water. That detail wasn’t lost on me. I don’t really know what it means, if anything at all, but it does seem significant. Although, I will admit that because I have a thing for snow I might be focusing on the snowflake more than most people would.

In less the twenty pages Louisa May Alcott created multiple worlds and told one incredible story. The settings and plot are unique, and just when you think the story has come to its logical conclusion it takes another turn and surprises you yet again. The writing is excellent because the language and detail are rich but concise. I was, as I mentioned above, very impressed with Alcott’s description of the Seasons, but I was most impressed with her depiction of the fire-spirits, especially considering it was published in 1854! But maybe I’ve got it wrong, maybe these long-ago authors are exactly who I should expect such deeply imaginative stories from.
Check it out,

“…little Spirits glided, far and near, wearing crowns of fire, beneath which flashed their wild, bright eyes; and as they spoke, sparks dropped quickly from their lips…”

And, believe me, that is only a taste- only a fraction!- of what Alcott wrote about the fire-spirits. I don’t want to give it all away! I really want people to read this incredible story for themselves.