People who know me in actual real life know that I collect Alice in Wonderland books and memorabilia (although it has dropped off since D was born and my disposable income was eaten up by a small boy and his train obsession…) The jewel in my crown is a very battered, foxed first edition of Through the Looking Glass which I picked up very cheaply via the man who is considered the world expert when it comes to Lewis Carroll.
As a result of this obsession, it is almost guaranteed that I will read a book with an Alice connection and I jumped at the chance to read this (I also have my eye on the Chronicles of Alice series.) I remember reading Wicked years ago and really enjoying Maguire’s take on the Oz story; the unusual viewpoint and writing style hooked me in and I hoped for more in After Alice.
The action in the novel takes place in the dual worlds of Wonderland and Oxford after Alice has gone missing. Her friend, Ada, goes looking for her and finds herself caught up in the madness of Wonderland, meeting all of the characters we’re familiar with. At the same time, her harassed governess and Alice’s sister are looking for the girls above ground. There’s also a cameo from Lewis Carroll himself, although it’s not obvious who is unless you know a bit about him.
This is a story that takes the original narrative further (Maguire gets the tone and insanity of the original books just right- Carroll would be proud, I think), but also challenges the ideas of Victorian society: disability, slavery, class, the roles of women are all explored. Charles Darwin even makes an appearance. All the things we think we know about the 19th century is here and dissected with a light touch and a streak of humour running through.
And yet. This didn’t feel as satisfying as Wicked and I can’t figure out why. Maybe the switching between the two worlds meant that something was lost, I’m not sure. However, it was an interesting, fairly quick read and one that fans of the original Alice will enjoy.