Written by a master storyteller, After Alice might be the richest Alice in Wonderland retelling available if you’re looking for lyrical writing and elaborate description. I wanted to quote every other sentence or store it away in my memory, hoping Maguire’s genius might rub off.
The plot, however, is okay at best.
Our main character, Ada, is daunted by the responsibility of being a new big sister. In a moment of anxiety she runs away from her governess and from home, where she comes across Lydia—Alice’s sister—who claims Alice has vanished again before sending Ada off.
Moments later Ada finds herself in the same strange world—Alice has been there, because people know who she is. Since Alice is her only friend, Ada takes it upon herself to find her and bring her back home, but in a place where nothing makes sense that might be nearly impossible.
There are new characters, including a freed slave boy named Siam—and Charles Darwin! I might have to read the book again to understand the connection between Darwin and Alice’s Wonderland. Alice’s sister Lydia distracted me in scenes featuring the old man by flirting shamelessly with his American companion, Mr. Winters…
Aside from the curious presence of Charles Darwin, this was a typical Alice retelling; the nonsense is there, talking plants and a Cheshire Cat. The strange creatures Ada encounters are maddening as ever; I had the constant urge to shake them.
If you’re looking for a mind-blowing rendition of the classic, After Alice might disappoint; however, I suggest you give it a try for the writing alone. Few books these days have such a firm, beautiful control on description and language.
It might not have been my favorite book by Gregory Maguire, but I myself am not disappointed. I wanted a good story from a master, and it was indeed a good story (not great.)
I can only hope one day I’ll be able to write like him.