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Victorian England that ranges across its stuffiness, its snobbery and its cruelties.
Maguire also offers plenty of good gags. When Ada meets the Cheshire Cat, we’re told “the cat was probably bathing its particulars, she was glad the body was absent”. Lewis Carroll, it’s safe to say, would never have published this line, although he might have run to the gag about salt completing Humpty Dumpty. The decision to make Ada someone living inside an “iron corset, that penitential vest intended to tame the crookedness in her spine” is likewise successful. Here’s someone for whom Wonderland is potentially a place of freedom, a place where she can move around easily.
As for Maguire’s evocation of Wonderland, well, if it’s not quite as vivid as that of Lewis Carroll, that’s eminently forgivable. Less easy to overlook, though, is the plot, or rather the lack of a clear one. As the above paragraphs should hint, there’s plenty going on in After Alice, it’s just that it’s tricky to figure out why. The press release makes much of this being Ada’s odyssey in the underworld as a rescue mission, and yet the book doesn’t come across as this linear, this straightforward.
There seems to be deep symbolism, for instance, in Darwin’s presence, yet it’s opaquely expressed, to the extent of perhaps not being expressed at all. Likewise, there’s much here on the nature of freedom, yet it’s difficult to know what precise point about this subject Maguire might be trying to make.
Perhaps it helps to have read Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland recently; it may be that there are references you’ll miss if you haven’t. But if that’s the case it’s likely to be a problem for many readers. Much of After Alice is beautifully written, it’s just a shame you’re so often left wondering what’s really going on in Wonderland rather than basking in the wonder of returning to Carroll’s imaginary world. Jonathan Wright
Maguire once considered writing a book about the older Oliver Twist, but decided, “that, perhaps, is a twisted idea”.