Book Review: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Book: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Published: Random House, 2010
Genre: Fiction
Pages:  345 pages
Where I got it: got an e-book copy for my Nook
Buy It: Amazon

Summary (from Goodreads): Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war. 

My thoughts: The story of Alice in Wonderland is such a familiar tale to people all over the world. What most people don't know is what happened between Lewis Carroll and the real Alice. This fictional tale may be an exaggerated retelling, but it has many of the facts shockingly correct. Learning that Lewis Carroll (real name: Charles Dodgson) may have been a child molester is really something that cannot be forgotten. I never really thought much about who was behind the creation of one of my favorite childhood fairytales until now. It is a disturbing look at the truth behind a fantastical world that will make you think about the story of Alice in a different way.

Alice I Have Been is an emotional novel that peeks into the life of the Alice who inspired the famous story. As a young girl, Alice Pleasance Liddell and her sisters spent many days hanging around Mr. Dodgson, who took a special interest in Alice. He came up with the story of Alice In Wonderland and Alice urged him to write it down. After an incident between the two, Alice is forbidden to see him. Alice I Have Been details her struggle with overcoming her past relationship with Mr. Dodgson and how it affected her throughout her life as she searched for her true identity, separate from the girl in the fairytale. He immortalized her as this young, carefree girl but he knew that she would one day grow up and not be the young girl he so admired.

I really enjoyed the writing in this novel. Alice was a tortured soul, but I was glad that she was able to come to terms with what happened before she died. It seemed that she always discovered things too late. She realized that she truly loved her husband after he passed, and it took her almost her entire life to read the full story of Alice in Wonderland because it was too painful for her to think about all that story put her through. Her relationship and feelings towards her three sons was heartbreaking and I'm not even a mother. Throughout all of this, she also had to deal with losing so many of her loved ones. A sister, a potential life partner, sons, parents, husband. It's a tragic tale that will have you on the edge of your seat. I found my self sympathizing with Dodgson as well. He seemed innocent enough, despite his interest in young girls. We don't actually know what occured between the two, as this is just Benjamin's mind at work. Alice and her family never spoke about it and Dodgson's family ripped the pages from that time of his life out of his journal.

Alice I Have Been is a more toned down Lolita. As the reader, if you are able to look past the scandal, this is an interesting and engaging novel that I'd recommend you read. I've been trying to figure out how to rate this one. As I neared the end, I could not put it down because I felt very attached to Alice's story and Benjamin's writing had me hooked from the beginning. I'm still a little creeped out by the relationship between Alice and Dodgson but I'm also quite intrigued about their history. Google Lewis Carroll's photographs of children if you are at all interested in this story and you will get a quick peek at the background of this novel.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars 

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