After Alice: A Novel

By Gregory Maguire

(Morrow, $26.99, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Gregory Maguire is one wicked storyteller.

The author of the mega-super-bestselling Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which expanded  the Wizard of Oz tale and inspired several sequels and a mega-super-hit Broadway musical, Maguire has a brilliant knack for using well known fairy tales as the basis for clever and provocative novels for adults. These include Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, based on Cinderella, and Mirror Mirror, which sets the Snow White story quite believably in Renaissance Italy. Maguire, who lives near Boston with his husband, artist Andy Newman, and their three adopted children, also writes realistic fiction for upper grade school and middle school readers.

What is this book about?

Published as the literary world celebrates the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s immortal Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Maguire’s imaginative novel asks and answers the question of how 19th century England might have responded to Alice’s disappearance down the rabbit-hole. He takes the character of Ada, Alice’s best friend (who gets a brief mention in Carroll’s book), and sends her down that hole to find Alice and bring her home from her subterranean (and/or subconscious) adventures. At the same time, Alice’s older sister Lydia is searching for a young boy who is visiting and seems to have passed through their manse’s looking-glass to parts unknown, and she visits Wonderland, too. There they meet such timeless creations as the Mad Hatter, plus a few whipped up by Maguire, and the “real” world of the story contains cameos by such notables as the British royals and Charles Darwin. Adding to the enjoyment is the charmingly nonsensical language of Carroll’s creatures, as deftly echoed by Maguire.

Why you’ll like it:

After Alice is both an entertaining spinoff from the beloved children’s classic for adults and a thoughtful look at issues such as identity and the development of the imagination. Maguire’s book is witty and wise, and his take on Wonderland is a wonder in its own right. Readers who loved the original will be chortling, “O frabjous day!”

What others are saying:

The starred Kirkus Review says: “Alice doesn’t live here anymore—and Maguire  has great fun upending the furniture to find out where’s she gone. Continuing his tradition of rewriting fairy tales with an arch eye and offbeat point of view, Maguire turns his attention to Lewis Carroll and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice has dropped down the rabbit hole—”again,” sighs an exasperated governess, one of the story’s many bêtes noires—and now her best friend and confidante, Ada Boyce, is falling in after her, looking to bring our young Persephone, or perhaps Eurydice, back into the light. Well, of course, Ada finds all sorts of curiouser and curiouser things down below, from hookah-smoking caterpillars to mad hatters and pince-nez-sporting sheep, with Carroll’s original cast of characters plus a few of Maguire’s own imagining. Up on Earth, Maguire populates the scene with all kinds of folks from real life, among them Walter Pater, Charles Darwin, and various members of the British royal family, who fuss about doing serious and real-world things—including, in a nice, smart closing turn, a meditation on the evolutionary qualities of, yes, the imagination. Not that Alice and Ada aren’t (weren’t, that is) real, but Maguire leaves it to them, mostly, to enjoy the wackiness of the underworld and for the grown-ups to do the pondering. Still, some of the slyest moments come when the two worlds collide: “I have always heard that Queen Victoria was moderate in her tastes,” says Ada, confused at a subterranean knight’s alarm that the queen is likely to have their heads. And there’s no end to sinister possibilities along with the usual charming Alice storyline—after all, Lewis Carroll didn’t inscribe the entrance to Wonderland’s tiny door with the words out of Dante, “All ye who enter here, abandon hope.” A brilliant and nicely off-kilter reading of the children’s classic, retrofitted for grown-ups—and a lot of fun.”

The New York Times Book Review  says: “…a narrative that purrs with all the warm confidence of a Cheshire cat…Maguire confronts his weighty themes with a light touch and exquisite, lovely language…Maguire’s playful vocabulary may be Carroll-esque, but his keen wit is closer to Monty Python…Gregory Maguire has made a cottage industry out of reframing famous children’s stories to explore neglected side characters and misrepresented villains. He has tracked through all of the precincts of Oz and a lot of the landscape of Grimm’s fairy tales, and one would not be surprised if his heart was no longer in such expeditions. Furthermore, Alice’s Wonderland has been so often revisited…that it would seem everything worth discovering there must have been strip-mined long ago. Even that phrase, “down the rabbit hole,” is so overused that it now has all the life of a taxidermied white hare. But Maguire’s enthusiasm is intact, his erudition a joy, and his sense of fun infectious. What could have been a tired exercise in the familiar instead recharges a beloved bit of nonsense. By book’s end, most readers will be hoping for a sequel…”

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Maguire turns his attention to Lewis Carroll’s Victorian fantasies, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, in this thoughtful and disconcertingly memorable novel. Ada Boyce, Alice’s best friend, also falls down a rabbit hole into a phantasmagorical realm where she too is tossed and bossed about by strange creatures who delight in clever, frustrating wordplay. She longs to shed the metal brace that both imprisons and protects her crooked back, but she also wants to reunite with Alice and go home. Meanwhile, Alice’s older sister, Lydia, disturbed by the death of their mother and her own impending womanhood, searches distractedly for a visiting little boy, Siam, who has climbed into the world on the other side of the mirror in the family drawing room. Maguire frequently pulls back from the action to offer a larger perspective as characters struggle to discover who and what they are—and, most importantly, why they are. This is a feast for the mind, and readers will ruminate on it long after turning the last page.”

Says Library Journal: “What happened above after Alice fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland? That is the question Maguire answers in his latest novel. In alternating chapters we follow Alice’s sister Lydia, who was watching Alice but lost her, and Ada Boyce, Alice’s neighbor and friend, who also falls into Wonderland. Lydia is beset—by Miss Armstrong, Ada’s governess; by her father’s entertaining Charles Darwin that day; with being a newly motherless 15-year-old girl. Ada, free of adult scrutiny and her scoliosis brace for the first time, experiences the oddness of Wonderland as she follows in Alice’s wake. In one vexing day, Ada, Lydia, and Miss Armstrong must adapt to deal with their circumstances and find new facets of themselves. VERDICT Maguire fans should be pleased with his take, at turns clever and philosophical, on the Lewis Carroll classic. Other readers may find the slow build up of action and wrenching jumps between the two disconnected settings, one in stilting 19th-century language and the other in the nonsense of Wonderland, a bit too high a barrier to keep them reading.”

When is it available?

Don’t go down the rabbit-hole. Just visit the Downtown Hartford Public Library to borrow this book.

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