"Gregory Maguire turns his imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings -and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll's enduring tale. Ada, a friend mentioned briefly in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, sets out to visit Alice but, arriving a moment too late, 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 bring her safely home from this surreal world below the world. The White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and the bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts interrupt their mad tea party to suggest a conundrum: if Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or if Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life.
Either way, everything that happens next is After Alice." - From Goodreads
Rating: 🐲🐲.5 or 🐲🐲🐲/5
For my July “Alice In Wonderland” book, I decided to pick Gregory Maguire’s After Alice for two reasons, a) it’s been on my shelf (which should be a big incentive for all of us bookhoarders) and b) i’ve heard a lot about Maguire and his ‘retellings’ (I put that in quotes because his books seem to be more of a subversion of the original story rather than a necessary retelling...but maybe that’s the definition of a retelling? Okay not subversion, continuation? Sidequest? Companion? I’ll stop now).
I’ll admit, though having heard a lot about Wicked (the book and the musical) I’ve never actually read anything he’s written till now. And honestly, I am a little uncertain if I’d read anything else, mostly because I don’t know if his style of writing is for me.
After Alice tells the story of Ada, a friend that Alice mentions once and in passing in the original tale, who is sent off to deliver marmalade to Alice and her family (more of an excuse to get out of the house and out of the way of her mother and ailing newborn brother) and ends up tumbling down the rabbit hole after Alice (see what the author did there) when hiding from the governess that is meant to chaperone her. What we get next is an alternating look at how the outside world is reacting to the disappearance of Alice (and now Ada) as well as Ada’s quest to find Alice and bring her back home.
Despite it being a short book, it took me a bit longer than I expected to finish it and that’s mostly because of the the way Maguire writes.
At times the language and style (and insanity) is reminiscent of the tale it’s inspired by, that it’s paying tribute to. At others it feels like it’s just trying too hard, to be fancy and intellectual and include social commentary and establish itself as an ‘adult’ book.
I spent my time reading After Alice alternating between enjoying the similarities between the source material and Maguire’s book, the lack of logic and familiar characters, and being frustrated by the writing. I can suspend disbelief about a lot of things, rabbit holes leading to worlds where playing cards are lifesized and roses speak and the ground becomes the sky. I just have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that a ten year old would think “...in any event, all ought to have been Stygian darkness if she’d sunk more than a yard from the tree roots. But a pellucid gleam stretch the walls at regular intervals.”
I read a review halfway through reading, trying to see whether my frustration was justified or not, that made a very good point: it would have been so interesting to see Wonderland from the perspective of someone who described herself as lacking imagination, the opposite of Alice and her whimsical/flightiness. Alice has always existed in another world, Ada is a realist. But very quickly the two seem indistinguishable.
You can argue that those are just the effects of Wonderland, making everyone who goes there Mad, regardless of how grounded they may have started off, but I couldn’t help but feel like After Alice was superfluous in the vast realm of books that delve into Lewis Carroll’s world.
There were some interesting side perspectives, Alice’s sister Lydia and an adopted runaway slave child and some side conversations involving Darwin and Alice’s father and commentary on death and loss and religion but even while they had their cleverness and insight that piqued my interest, over all they just seemed to detract from the main story. It didn’t help that maybe one of those other perspectives are even remotely likeable. Maguire tries to tackle way too many issues in a book that couldn’t seem to decide whether it was nostalgically bringing adults back to Wonderland, or giving us a glimpse of (and subtly commentating on) the political, religious, and racial environment and gender roles of Victorian England.
I’m sure there will be people who love After Alice, if only for the ability to delve back into Wonderland and to see how Alice is perceived from the perspective of those who know her, but at the end of the day it was just okay for me, with the occasional bursts of nostalgia that made me want to abandon it and reread the original tale.
(Some) Memorable Quotes:
“A story in a book has its own intentions, even if unknowable to the virgin reader, who just lollops along at her own pace regardless of the author’s strategies, and gets where she will. After all, a book can be set aside for weeks, or for good. (Burned in the grate.) Alternatively, a story can be adored for centuries. But it cannot be derailed. A plot, whether abandoned by a reader or pursued rapturously, remains itself, and gets where it is headed even if nobody is looking. It is progressive and inevitable as the seasons. Winter still comes after autumn though you may have died over the summer.”
"Our private lives are like a colony of worlds expanding, contracting, breathing universal air into separate knowledges. Or like several packs of cards shuffled together by an expert anonymous hand, and dealt out in a random, amused or even hostile way.”
"In order to remember who you are, you have to have known it in the first place.”
“But what is character? How solid? We cut our hair, we shave our beards, we lose a limb. We remain ourselves. In dreams, however, we swap identities licentiously. We sabotage the structures of our character without a thought.”
If anyone has read After Alice, let us know what you think in the comments below! Comments also open to further book/movie/show recommendations, anything you’d like to see reviewed, or general feedback. We’d love to hear what you have to say!