Alice by Christina Henry
A mind-bending new novel inspired by the twisted and wondrous works of Lewis Carroll…
In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.
In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…
Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.
And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice. (Goodreads)
Alice is a retelling and not-quite-retelling of Alice in Wonderland. I haven’t read Lewis Carroll’s novels (though I’m working on that) but I think everyone knows the story of Alice and her trip down the rabbit hole. Christina Henry’s version of wonderland is a city rich of violence, prostitution and crime and its characters are unlike from what we have seen. The Caterpillar is a street trafficker, the Cheshire cat is a sly information broker, the Walrus is a cannibal-rapist, Hatcher (the Hatter?) is a crazy axe-murderer and Alice is a rape survivor suffering from post-trauma. It is a darker re-imagining of the original books yet still an exciting read as Alice and Hatcher travel the nooks and hidden corners of the Old City to defeat the monstrous Jabberwocky, discovering fragments of their forgotten pasts along the way.
There was comfort in ignorance, in thinking the world a certain way and not knowing any different.
Despite its grim premise, Henry writes with a sense of innocent-awe that accurately relates with Alice’s state of mind– that of a woman trapped in a 16-year old’s body. Henry describes gruesome scenes in plain, simple words that is reminiscent to fairytale tellings and children’s books and she writes her titular character Alice with a child’s raw perspective. It was, surprisingly, a very light read and there were moments where I wished Henry could have gone deeper and more morbid. But that’s just me.
More so, I would have liked it better if the characters were more complex and well-rounded as the book portrays them cartoonishly– these are the good guys, those are the bad guys kind of thing. I also have issues with the lack of world-building and the abrupt ending, but those are minor details that the novel’s plotting and Alice’s characterization live up for.
The Verdict: 4/5 Stars
The book is not just a dark adventure, but an insightful journey where Alice gradually learns to face her fears and ultimately, triumphs over her childhood horrors. An enjoyable read, in a different kind of way, but a good, good book nonetheless.
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