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Alice I Have Been

Alice I Have Been
by Melanie Benjamin

Part love story, part literary mystery, Melanie Benjamin’s spellbinding historical novel leads readers on an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole, to tell the story of a woman whose own life became the stuff of legend. Her name is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, but to the world she’ll always be known simply as “Alice,” the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a wonderland of Mad Hatters, Queens of Hearts, and Cheshire Cats. Now, nearing her eighty-first birthday, she looks back on a life of intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. First as a young woman, then as a wife, mother, and widow, she’ll experience adventures the likes of which not even her fictional counterpart could have imagined. Yet from glittering balls and royal romances to a world plunged into war, she’ll always be the same determined, undaunted Alice who, at ten years old, urged a shy, stuttering Oxford professor to write down one of his fanciful stories, thus changing her life forever. (goodreads.com)

Many, many moons ago (2009) I found out about this book and I lusted after it ever since. Because of my aversion to buying hardcovers (especially adult ones because they are stupid expensive!) I didn’t pick it up. When it came out in paperback last year I still didn’t pick it up because, well, I’m not sure. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I couldn’t afford to buy books so I was really selective with what I did buy. This is one of those books that when I saw it, or heard someone speak of it, I would say, “OMG! I have to get this!” and then promptly not think of it when I was in a store or online looking for something. But then I had the bright idea to get it for Kristi for Christmas. I found it very silly that a book I had wanted to buy for two years was finally being bought – but not for myself!

I made sure to rectify that when I started buying books with gift cards I’d received for Christmas.

Finally! I now have my very own copy of Alice I Have Been in my hands!

This book was just amazing. I cannot believe I waited so long for such a great story. Although it is historical fiction, Melanie Benjamin did base the story from research she did into the life of the real “Alice”, Alice Liddel. There’s a nifty little part at the back of this book about the real history of Alice Liddel that was utterly fascinating.

I loved everything about this novel. The writing, the dialogue the imagery, it was all fabulous. Alice, as a precocious 7 and 11 year old was so much fun to read. I loved her blunt manner of speaking and her bratty-yet-charming personality. I can see how people would interpret the relationship she had with Mr. Dodgeson to be improper. I will admit I was worried about reading that aspect of the story because I thought there might be graphic depictions of things that I didn’t want to read. Fortunately, there’s nothing all that untoward between those pages. A lot can be left to the imagination and you can make up your own mind. I know the rumours abound that Lewis Carroll might have been inappropriate with children, but this novel puts things into perspective from a young girl who is full of dreams and the idea of romance. I was not uncomfortable at all reading the first part of the story, when I was nervous that I would be.

The last section of the story follows Alice Liddel, now Alice Hargreaves, as she watches her three sons go off to war. I found myself rather emotional throughout this last section. Alice’s loss of two of her sons hit me pretty hard, the character’s emotion was so lush on those pages that it was almost tangible. I truly felt for this woman as she grew up and suffered many kinds of loss in her life.

This book made me realize, I might actually like historical fiction, when I have always thought I didn’t. I might give other historical novels a try (suggestions welcome!). I am certainly a fan of Melanie Benjamin’s writing style and will consider picking up her second novel The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. However, I don’t know if I shall be as enchanted by that one as I was the Alice novel. I happen to adore Alice in Wonderland and gravitate towards anything Alice-related. (Although I have actually never read the original story, I need to get on that!)

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