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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”.

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