17. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Here we are at novel 17 of the year and the 11th novel I am crossing off my Reading Challenge list. Rapidly starting to become a little behind with these posts but to avoid flooding you with all my thoughts all at once I am going to stagger this post and Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates this week.

I have never read Alice in Wonderland before but it has been on my list for a while. As you can see from the photograph my copy is a slightly older copy. Unfortunately it had been loved a little too roughly before it came to be in my possession hence the bruise. I actually have a small horde of old novels in this binding and similar thanks to a little luck and searching. It is a mission of mine to collect these Collins Clear-type Press and I have quite a few. Very much my secret treasure. I am certain that if I was a dragon I would not horde gold, but old books.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll.

As such a well known novel I feel a little silly saying that this novel is about Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a nonsensical world full of anthropomorphic creatures. And that from the onset, it is a little like a dream and can be a little uncomfortable to navigate if you are expecting elaborate scene changes. Events can happen quite abruptly and can feel a little chaotic and disorientating. But it is simple and enjoyable if you’re in a light mood. This also isn’t a profound novel, but it is richly constructed with playful silliness, poetry, and an eccentric cast.

I have had a little contact with a few film adaptations so I knew the staple iconography associated with Alice’s Adventures. There were things about the novel that were very familiar to me, but others that reminded me of the utter confusion of encountering these things before in film adaptations. For me personally I also think I probably wouldn’t have persevered to finish it when I was younger as I would’ve found it very difficult for me to follow.

But the general idea of the novel is it’s supposed to be a little silly, a little dream-like, and just a bit of fun. I’m still not sure if I’ve decided if I entirely like it or not, but I think in some way I’ve always felt that way. Disney’s version of Alice’s adventures always unsettled me for some reason and I feel unsettled after completing the novel. Perhaps I am trying too hard to find my way through the rabbit hole, when really I should just let go and accept Wonderland as it is.

 

16. The Magicians’ Guild 

Happy Friday my most excellent friends! What a week it’s been! I can’t say I have been terribly busy, but the majority of the people I know are finishing undergrads, or having busy weeks doing things at work or with school or college or having serious life changes or personal epiphanies. It is certainly starting to feel like the middle of the year, and what better way to mark the occasion than with the sixteenth novel of the year. This is not my first time. The Magicians’ Guild, and the rest of it’s sister novels in The Black Magician trilogy I’ve read before.

 

The Magicians’ Guild – Trudi Canavan

 

I had a revelation a few weeks ago that reading when younger often resulted in feelings of disorientation. Regardless of how much I enjoyed the novel I would often find myself totally lost in the narrative. The Black Magician trilogy unfortunately belongs to a number of novels I had these feelings about. So as I am now older, wiser, and more attractive *winks*, I have decided to revisit some of these novels to see if I gain any more from them.

And surprise surprise I did! This time around I knew exactly where I was and who was who – always important things. On this read I feel I may have picked up a few subtleties that had previously been very much lost to me. The story follows Sonea while pelting a stone at a magician, is shocked to find it breaks through the magical barrier and knocks him out. This personal discovery is shocking to her, as her social stature is the lowest of the low and only high born families send children with magical potential to the Guild for magical training.

As a magician whose powers have manifested themselves naturally, Sonea is a threat to both herself and the city, and the Magicians’ Guild find themselves in a race to find her. Much like an elaborate game of cat and mouse as she hides within the slums of Imardin and evades them countless times by chance. Of course Sonea and her friends mistakenly believe the magicians intend her harm. From the reputation the magicians have within the slums of Imardin, it is hardly surprising. Quickly Sonea realises the harm she will do herself as the power of her magic grows and unused and unchecked it begins to manifest itself in sporadic ways and ultimately welcomes the Guild’s help with suspicion. (After destroying a street and nearly herself.)

This is a lovely fantasy novel. It’s a simple story and the characters are engaging and I haven’t really gone into some of the finer points of the novel. There is local slum slang, politics, unrequited love, some betrayal and manipulation, and at the centre of it a very unexpected character breaking into a world in which she is very much out of place. I was very much right to love this novel when I first read it all those years ago. Whilst it might not be the most staggering fantasy novel I’ve ever read. It is certainly one of the more endearing, timeless novels I have read. By timeless I mean that it has aged very well and has successfully tempted me back and after all this time there is still plenty to enjoy.

I dare say, I’ll visit again.

 

 

15. Alice and the Fly

Isn’t the year going quickly?! It seems it was March thirty seconds ago and suddenly it’s well into May. I’ve cleared off my desk and deconstructed the last of my deadline stress nest. Mostly as my room had become a swirling vortex of loose pages of poetry, books, and empty sweet packets. Creativity thrive in chaos, so I hear, so I suppose I’ve cleaned up just to make a new stress nest.

Alice and the Fly is the fifteenth novel I have read this year. I’m kind of impressed, I’m also a little disturbed but I suppose somewhere down the line all of this reading is going to be important. This is a novel that I now entirely regret reading before bed. I actually had to start another novel as a pallet cleanser because this one, really got under my skin.

Alice and the Fly – James Rice

Alice and the Fly is about phobias, isolation, and the struggle to present a socially appropriate exterior. It follows Greg, who has a lisp and is having an difficult time at school, nicknamed ‘psycho’. He is gifted with an unfortunate family who are a little dysfunctional. As working class social climbers, Greg’s parents are unhappy within their marriage. Greg’s mother spends a lot of time redecorating the house, obsessing over her friendships with well moneyed families in the area. Greg’s father is mostly absent, and this absence is most often explained away with him ‘working’ regardless of the time he spends with his secretaries. Greg’s sister is obsessed with dancing and spends most of the time distanced from her brother.

Greg seems to exist as both part of his family and separate from it. He spends a lot of time as a bystander in the lives of his family and is somewhat detached from them. He spends a lot of time alone and seems to struggle during interactions. The novel structured as his journal, the majority of the narrative encourages the reader to riddle out what is wrong with Greg. There are clear flags that there is something very seriously wrong, he takes pills every day and there are transcripts from police interviews included throughout the novel. These transcripts really encourage curiosity and reveal more about Greg through the perception of others and without them I think the novel would’ve lost momentum.

I feel through reading this novel that I’ve actually spent a lot of time with Greg. He is quite a naive character and whether or not he understands his own condition is never really clear. I would like to think he has been informed, but I really can’t believe that he has been. I feel he is quite innocent really, not in a childlike Ray Bradbury way, more so in the way he has had all of this thrust upon him and he is doing his best given a limited grasp. And I really feel for him.

 

I think this novel really got into my head because of Greg and his condition being so central and so vivid. Where the majority of the characters push him aside, or simply pretend he is just ‘odd’. His obsessions and struggles to be socially acceptable are overwhelming. This is a novel of evidence also, the evidence to unravel a character, but it is more than that. Written in a journal form, the reader becomes Greg’s confidant when in reality Greg struggles to have a conversations.

Alice and the Fly, is so brilliantly written and so candid. Without a doubt a character who is simply trying to do his best. I would read this novel again, it is disturbing and not a bed time read but it does flag up the reality of mental illness. It flags up the reality of stigma and I have such empathy for Greg. There aren’t many novels that make me feel as if I want to reach in and give a character a big old hug, but this was one of them.

 

 

14. The Girl with all the Gifts

 

My assignment is done and over! I was a little sad to see it go, in the end I really enjoyed my topic, and working on it every day. It has also occurred to me that in the last fifteen or so days I have read three novels alongside all of the research and writing I’ve been doing. Which is a little crazy I’ll grant you, but I’ve never been known to do things by halves. So, The Girl with all the Gifts. 

[The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R Carey (my image)]
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from this novel but it certainly wasn’t the novel I read. I wasn’t expecting something that I would particularly enjoy, I wasn’t expecting to be sucked in for hours and be unable to put it down even though my eyes burnt with tiredness and it was the small hours of the morning. But this is what I got. This novel is without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had all year. This is a novel for a long train ride, this is not a novel if you are reading on the bus because you’ll miss your stop. You can try and sit for a short time and read it, but it will force you to rearrange your plans, miss your meetings or lectures and will generally ruin your social life until you finish it.

The novel follows Melanie on her self discovery of what and who she is in a world gone to hell thanks to the fungus, Ophiocordyceps. Yes, that’s right, the zombifying fungus has skipped forward in its evolution from taking down insects to taking over the majority of humanity and has turned them into ‘Hungries’. Mindless, zombie like, seeming only to experience the desire to feed on uninfected flesh, the Hungries roam the last of Britain while humanity is locked up in tiny pockets of civilisation. This is not your typical gunslinging Zombie novel though, as Melanie is ten, and although she knows a lot she doesn’t quite know why she’s locked in a cell or why her keepers are so careful around her.

As good as this novel is though, the least far fetched and most logical ending was the novel’s conclusion. But that doesn’t really take away from the story or feel particularly anti-climatic. The characters are a diverse mix, some you hate, some you love, some you come to have affection for. The perspective through the novel is also not fixed on any one individual and moves around so you have the advantage of different perspectives and different knowledge. Among the survivors Melanie ultimately travels with is a Scientist, a Teacher, and a drill Sergeant, this novel has the advantage of multiple perspectives on the ‘Breakdown’ of society as well as very conflicting perspectives about Melanie.

The story is very intriguing and enigmatic, I am a little disappointed that I got through it so fast as now I do have a book-hangover. This is a gentle sci-fi novel, leaning towards the dystopian. The title ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ is a reference to the myth of Pandora opening the box when she knows she shouldn’t and there is a very lovely overarching symmetry between the myth and Melanie, but I won’t say anymore. Or I will ruin it.

I would without a doubt read this novel again.

13. Farewell Summer

As it has been a very relaxing and lazy Sunday I finished my current novel and now I’m here to tell you about it. Farewell Summer has been on my to read list for a while. I’ve read a lot of Bradbury, I’m a big fan of his prose although the last Bradbury novel I finished in January, Something Wicked this Way Comes, I can’t say really enjoyed as much as some of his other works. It was nice to be reminded with Farewell Summer, why I fell in love with Bradbury’s prose to begin.

[My Image]
What’s it about? Well it’s is a continuation of Dandelion Wine and a rather good one at that. Bradbury remarks in the afterword that he cut this portion from Dandelion Wine as the original manuscript was so long and waited and reworked it until he was entirely happy with it to release it out into the world. It’s about summer coming to an end and childhood mischief and steadily leaving childhood behind. But it’s also about the gap between children and the elderly and bridging that gap to learn and grow. It’s also a little about time and how, regardless of the clocks we smash, it moves forward relentlessly.

Bradbury’s prose is beautiful, inspiring, it regularly surprises with interesting images and description. It’s nostalgic, it had me thinking about Aberystwyth in October, when it is still beautifully warm, t-shirt weather, and the days gradually shorten. But like most great Bradbury novels, it contains a revelation two thirds in, this one about ‘letting go’. It is a quiet, patient novel that has all of the air of the coming autumn and the unwinding of a well spent summer.

Structurally the chapters are rather short, so if you are after a quick read on the train or bus between stops then this is one for you. The pace of the story is relatively rapid. As much as I enjoyed the childlike world of Dandelion Wine I did also find it an exhaustingly long read simply because it was a childlike world. This is also the same problem I faced with Something Wicked This Way Comes perhaps this is just a style I struggle with. Farewell Summer is just long enough, any more and I think it would’ve been too long. At a scarce 160pages, it certainly didn’t last long in my hands.

I always find something to enjoy about Bradbury’s writing. Perhaps it is his devotion to his work, the insatiable appetite he writes with or the pure joy he weaves with his words. He is undeniably one of my heroes, and hand on heart I have read nearly more of his work than any other author now. There are so many minor links between his works I think that for a novel to start with Farewell Summer certainly stands up well on its own. It is however, not my favourite. My favourite is still very certainly the very first Bradbury that I ever read, Fahrenheit 451.

12. The Wasp Factory

Sadly there have been no long train rides this week. But that didn’t stop me devouring The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. This is not my first time reading this novel, but it has been ten years since I’ve read it. I read this novel at a point in my life where I didn’t read much. Shock! It is my guilty secret that I didn’t start life gobbling up novels early. Obviously things have taken a turn and now I have a steadily growing pile of books I have read this year beside my bed.

img_1481-2
[My image]
I have to say I think I enjoyed this novel more this time round. I enjoyed the weird wonderful world of Frank and his eccentric family the first time around but I maybe didn’t understand as much as I do now. Most memorably the first time I read this I found myself disorientated most of the time which is something that has gradually changed the more novels I have read.

But it is hardly surprising as Frank, the protagonist of this novel, certainly moves around a lot! Located on a tiny island with access to the mainland of Scotland, Frank spends a lot of time patrolling the area and has named certain points on the island. This novel is quite an intense read, there is a lot to get your head around as Frank believes in possessing some sort of power, names everything and has a very rich personal mythology. This is a very introspective novel, Frank is quite an isolated character but is certainly not boring.

The Wasp Factory doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the richness of the story. The narrative is quite simple in reality but Banks really draws out very interesting twists and details about all of the characters concerned. Frank’s brother Eric has escaped from hospital and is on the rampage home. In between Eric’s phone calls and worrying about his whereabouts and actions, Frank tells us family history in detail Including ‘What happened to Eric’, some dismal family suicides and, of course, Frank’s involvement in murdering three family members.

This is not the usual ‘coming of age story’ and Banks successfully weaves a very authentic feeling novel with compelling voice. The novel surrounds some pivotal realisations for Frank who certainly sees a great deal of personal development, as well as a twisting and interesting ride for the reader. The thing I enjoy the most about Frank is the honesty and ‘frankness’ of the character. This was certainly an interesting revisit and I think I will read it again once I have once again forgotten some of the more harrowing parts of the novel.

There are parts of this novel which are certainly not for anyone who is of a sensitive disposition or anyone who is squeamish. I think as summer is now well on its way, I will be reading Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury next.