Things in Print Thursday :: Gregory Maguire’s rabbit hole

3 Nov

So I never read anything about suicide in September, and I didn’t read anything about domestic violence in October. I will own up to this. What I learned from looking at Goodreads lists is that most of the books that are fictional and about protagonists that are not white cis men that are about both of these subjects… just seemed too depressing for me or are either thrillers, which don’t usually interest me, or are heterosexual romances, which don’t usually interest me. Or I’ve read them before, like Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina. I’ve been busy, because Halloween preparations and all that (I’ll show y’all pictures soon), but I’ve done plenty of reading that’s not as per my assigned list.

Imagine my delight when I discovered a new Gregory Maguire. After Alice, this one is, and as with his others it’s a riff on a classic fantasy world, this one Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The perspective is not, in keeping with said others, that of an antagonist-turned-protagonist (or at least given three dimensions), but instead (after my own heart) that of a random who was mentioned once in the original, Alice’s friend Ada.

In contrast to the classically winsome, perpetually curious Alice, Ada is practical and ungainly, hampered by various infirmities and a decidedly less creative mind, yet she goes looking for Alice in the “real world” and stumbles into Wonderland all the same. Meanwhile, others in said “real world” are also searching and reacting, including members of both girls’ families and, on the periphery, Charles Darwin.

Yes, Charles Darwin.

One of the conceits of the book – I use the word conceit in the least derisive way possible, mind – is attempts to reconcile the fantastical with the practical and even scientific. Alice’s mother has died recently, leaving an imbalance in that household; Ada’s has recently borne another son, to similarly disorienting effect. (I will confess that I frequently lost track of whose adults were whose, as the narrative traveled back and forth and also the grown-ups were Mr. and Mrs. and Miss and so-on instead of first names; this is not a failing of the story so much as of my own concentration, but there you have it.) Alice’s sister Lydia is petulant; Ada’s governess Miss Armstrong is stubborn. Victorian social mores abound, but with them come rational concerns, reminders of real-world events (the abolitionist movement in America, for example), tangents on spirituality and logic.

It’s sort of hard to explain, honestly.

That’s not a dismissal of the book! Just… you’ll know within about a chapter whether this is a book for you. It’s got all sorts of clever wordplay, all sorts of social commentary, cutting observations cloaked with innocent perspectives. There are wild Wonderland creatures and adventures. But while I enjoyed myself, I won’t presume that you might do the same.

–your fangirl heroine.



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