After Alice ~ A Capsule Book Review

After Alice

After Alice ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Gregory Maguire is famous for his “Oz Series” of four books, the best of which is the first, Wicked. His latest novel is After Alice, a clever take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. On the summer day that little Alice Clowd disappears from her home in Oxford, England, in the 1860s, one Ada Boyce, her unhappy friend, goes looking for her and finds herself disappearing down a hole by the riverbank and ending up in Wonderland, where the two girls have separate but simultaneous adventures.

The whole time Ada is in Wonderland, she is looking for Alice but she doesn’t have much luck in finding her for the longest kind of time. In the meantime, we get a glimpse of Ada’s life and the life of her family. Her father is a vicar, her mother a disconnected “dipsomaniac” and her little brother a tiny infant who screams all the time, little Boyd Boyce. He seems to get all the attention in the family, leaving none for Ada. She has some kind of physical deformity involving her spine that forces her to wear a kind of corset under her clothes. The corset is worth mentioning because it plays an important part in how the story is resolved. Ada also has a governess, the formidable Miss Armstrong, who seems to turn up when she is least wanted and seems to know everybody’s business. Miss Armstrong is secretly in love with Ada’s father, the vicar, and doesn’t always do a very good job of concealing it.

Then there is Lydia, Alice’s older sister, age fifteen. She isn’t very interested in where Alice is and is quietly contemptible of Miss Armstrong when she comes along looking for Ada and Alice. On that same summer afternoon, Lydia also meets a handsome young American named Mr. Winter. He is traveling with and assisting the famous Dr. Charles Darwin, who is paying a call on Alice and Lydia’s father. Mr. Winter has a small black child with him named Siam, who is a runaway American slave. Soon Siam disappears, as Alice and Ada did before him, and he also—what a coincidence!—ends up in Wonderland.

After Alice is a breezy 273 pages. It’s a fantasy, skewed toward adults. That doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate for children; it means that children would probably be bored by it. The pleasure of reading After Alice is in the subtlety of the language.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp