‘Alice’ by Christina Henry: Book Review

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by L.Carroll is a story popular for being retold, adapted and used as an inspiration for new projects. The list for film and television programmes based on Alice in Wonderland is big enough to have its own Wikipedia page, the novel has been adapted into musical/stage productions and has even inspired stories and characters in video games. However, another common thing artists and writers take from Alice in Wonderland is twisting it and creating a dark retelling of the tale of the girl falling down the rabbit hole. ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry isn’t the first ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ retelling of Alice in Wonderland I have come across, as the first one is actually PS3/PC and Xbox 360 game Alice: Madness Returns. A game I actually quite enjoyed growing up!

‘Alice’ the 2015 novel by Christina Henry also almost brought that excitement back to me but this time in written form. Now I will say my first write-up of this and the feelings I had when I finished the book was very similar to how I finish most books which are excited and feeling accomplished! I wrote down how much I adored this retelling and that even though it was disturbing it felt like it succeeded in making a point about the dark topics used. But now I’ve sat back and thought about it, I thought I’d share my honest, spoiler-free review of ‘Alice’.

What I did enjoy about this book is that I enjoyed the inverted characters, I really loved seeing Henry’s dark portrayals of originally beloved characters from the books but this time they’d be antagonists and have very dark, irredeemable pasts. Objects and tropes from the original tale made appearances too such as the ‘Eat Me!’ cupcake and ‘Drink Me!’ bottle, the roses and the tea party. But, this time everything had such a darker symbolism and it was quite clever how Christina had changed this. Even after finishing I’m recalling characters and realising their reference to the original story and being quite intrigued. The story itself played out almost like an RPG, in which there was ‘bosses’ and big bads one after the other, the main characters stopping for rest and food and the main character herself having a power she didn’t even realise she had. I didn’t mind reading it this way and actually quite enjoyed it, I liked imagining in my head what Old City was like and enjoyed that some of the names of places and areas called back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and if they didn’t (or I couldn’t get the reference) they still brought personality to the world.

However, my biggest gripe with the story is that there was way too much sexual violence. I get this was meant to be a mature, disturbing retelling where there will be horror, gore and blood and I could get behind that and in some novels and stories I can understand why rape, abuse and violence comes up and if the victims manage to get a happy ending, revenge and the story emphasizes how horrible it is, I can normally accept a story having it. What I think went wrong in ‘Alice’ however is, although the story is clear the trade of young girls for sexual purposes or being eaten is horrific and the men that puppeteer this need to be punished, the way it’s written feels like they tried to emphasize how horrible it is by making it happen so often, by describing Alice’s trauma in detail, and having every female in the story basically either terrified of being raped or had been. Even then, I personally felt the final fights with the main antagonists that were rapists or allowing this violence and abuse were so anti-climatic that there was no justice? There was a scene of freeing a bunch of girls from the horrible trade and I was grateful for that scene but it’s almost as if the original plot had one antagonist in mind and then it was said the story was not brutal enough or ‘real world dark’ enough so they added in all this sexual violence?

Personally, I found myself gripped to parts of this book and did want to find out the outcome of every character and felt myself wanting Alice to get revenge and justice not just for herself but for all the females in the story. I did also find myself quite wanting to read the sequel book (Red Queen -and pray that hopefully the level of sexual violence is remarkably toned down) just so I can find out what happens next in the story.

I’d rate ‘Alice’ about a 2.5 of 5 as it has some cool fantasy ideas and I could somehow picture it in a film or video game but after sitting back I do see the flaws in how parts of it were written. Shock value is popular for a reason, popular media like Game of Thrones is widely watched and read for a reason and I feel the reason is purely that people are so shocked and astonished by what characters do and think it’s so out of the blue (and normally it is, sometimes very out of character) that they must finish it to find out what happens! I definitely succumbed to that reading this. I enjoyed parts of it but in general was very much turned off by the use of sexual violence and rape as shock value. Would I like to read any of the other stories by Christina Henry such as Lost Boy? Possibly. But ‘Alice’ in itself is a story not for everyone.

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Thank you for reading!

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Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro: Book Review

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.” 

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The story of how I discovered and decided to buy the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go, is actually quite funny – me and my mum were watching Pointless over dinner, we love trying to answer the questions on it and seeing if we’d do well if we were on the show. It’s actually a typical dinnertime thing that happens that I look forward to because obviously I love bonding with my mum. But this one episode the category was books shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and this book came up and my mum asked if I had heard of it because Ishiguro’s books were meant to be highly spoken of and from there I looked up the summary on it and added it to my to read list! I’ll say this though, the blurb only hints so little of how many interesting themes and the amazing story in this novel.

Photo 10-11-2017, 03 28 42.jpgKazuo Ishiguro is a Nobel-Prize winning novelist, short story writer and screenwriter. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan but him and his family moved to Guildford, Surrey when Ishiguro was the age of 5. Interestingly enough, Ishiguro’s first novel was the thesis he wrote in his Master of Arts in Creative Writing – I love finding these kind of things out about authors/novelists because it gives me inspiration and hope almost to continue with my own writing and trying to improve. This is my first Ishiguro novel to read but after finishing Never Let Me Go, I would love to read some of his other novels. His writing flows beautifully and the tones and emotions he puts into scenes are beautifully executed.

(Reading warning: Spoilers from here on out)

Never Let Me Go follows the reminiscing of Kathy H. She is a thirty-one year old carer and has had this job for almost twelve years. She talks about her time at a place called Hailsham which is pretty much a boarding school that her and many other students, which all have something in common, attend. Throughout the book she talks about childhood memories like watching other students prank a boy named Tommy, the different guardians (pretty much teachers) they have, how they can attend exchanges and sales to pick up secondhand items and art for their collections and the most peculiar experience of them all – how a mysterious woman they all call ‘Madame’ visits every so often to look at different kind of art the students create and take the art away.

Nostalgia and memories are big themes in Never Let Me Go, as the story is made up of a lot of memories Kathy has of Hailsham, her best friend Ruth, a boy named Tommy and when they move into cottages after Hailsham. However during their time at Hailsham, the students discover something about themselves and their future which separates them from any usual child – A) they’re clones and B) they’re destined to give away their vital organs until ‘completion'(death) before they even hit middle age.

“None of you will go to America, none of you will be film stars. And none of you will be working in supermarkets as I heard some of you planning the other day. Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then before you’re old, before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you are created to do. You’re not like the actors you watch on your videos, you’re not even like me. You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided.” 

What is so interesting about this twist to me, is that it wasn’t an ending twist, it wasn’t like a massive emotional dagger to stick in the characters, and in fact Kathy isn’t even shocked by it. It comes at the end of part 1 and I did almost find myself going ‘how could they keep this from them?’ and maybe expecting the rest of the story to be Kathy, Tommy and Ruth escaping from their fate. Although, that does almost happen, eventually in the story, the main three hear a rumour that finding Madame and proving two clones are in true love can defer becoming a donor and they do go on a journey to try to discover this – the ending is very bittersweet and does end with the accepted fate for Ruth and Tommy. Kathy is still alive at the end of the story but we are safe to assume she will go on to become a donor like her past friends and students.

After I finished the book, a lot of the afterthoughts and what this story means to me and how interesting the themes didn’t actually hit me until an hour after. Like I said, nostalgia and memories are a big theme in it and I think what’s really educational and inspiring about Ishiguro’s story is that the difference between Ruth and Kathy is Kathy holds onto her memories, the quote at the beginning of my review is actually said by Kathy, she doesn’t ever try to deny her past or even mistakes she’s made or arguments she’s gotten into compared to her best friend Ruth who when they move on from Hailsham has moments of possibly forgetting memories of Hailsham and pretending she’s past of it, she even confesses to Kathy that she asked the caretaker of the cottages they live in after Hailsham to take away her old stuff from school. I resonated massively with Kathy because I hoard so much stuff from growing up, I keep diaries, I keep journals, I have a notebook where I try to write down every positive memory or thing that happens, I have a box in my room that I put stuff that reminds me of happy times (old tickets, photos etc.), I keep my old teddies from childhood, I keep all my old schoolbooks etc. etc., I’m obsessed with keeping memories close to me and keeping as much as I can in my thoughts. Kathy and Ruth’s lives are so much shorter and planned out than mine and because of Kathy keeping all these memories, look at the story it provided – I think it just shows how important memories and nostalgia is and how bittersweet it can be.

The other theme and afterthought that stuck with me is the themes of time and morality – a quote that actually comes from the movie adaption of the book really spoke to me too: ‘We All Complete.’. It basically sticks with me in the way the saying ‘memento mori’ sits with me – our time on earth is timed and not limitless, we need to appreciate the time we have on earth and appreciate the memories we make. Why didn’t Kathy, Ruth and Tommy run from their fates? Because it’s what they were taught since childhood, although subliminally, and they know nothing else – much like us humans. We know nothing else than to live our lives out as long as possible, stay healthy and try to follow our dreams.

I just love that this story haunted me even after reading it, it kept me thinking and bringing up the story to my mum to get my thoughts on it out – this book would be so good for book clubs because there’s so much you can discuss. It makes you think so much about mortality and a different view on growing up although Kathy’s memories are not different and unique because of her being a clone – they are so human and she has stories that a lot of people could resonate with. I really recommend picking up the book, it was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize for a reason!

You can purchase ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro for £6.99 on Waterstones. UNIDAYs also do a 10% student discount (online only).

Thank you for reading,

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