by Gregory Maguire
(If you don’t know: Gregory Maguire writes new novels set in classic fantasy worlds — Oz, mostly, but this one is in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.)
So the thing with Gregory Maguire seems to be: you have to absolutely love the original.
The man writes an excellent homage. I’ve read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and the style and feel of this book is remarkably similar. He has the same imaginative twists (though not as many), the same absurdist humor mixed with Victorian understatement, the same satire of upper class manners and fashions, and of everything else that the author can think of. The writer’s voice is an excellent imitation, and I mean that as sincere flattery.
But I don’t love Lewis Carroll. I think the man was brilliant, and what he wrote was a watershed that led to Douglas Adams and Monty Python and Mel Brooks and Christopher Moore, all of whom I love or have loved – honestly, more than Carroll. So while I’m grateful for the existence of an Anglican mathematician with more imagination than either of those descriptors would imply, a whole world of imagination, I’d rather read (or watch) the others than him.
Consequently, I’d rather read them than Gregory Maguire.
I think this book also suffered for being too much outside of Wonderland. I mean, really: that’s the point of Carroll’s books. That’s why they’ve survived and are still beloved enough for Maguire to turn his hand to them. And half of this book by the chapters, and more than half of it by the pages, is set in Oxfordshire in 1861, following around Alice’s and Ada’s families as they search for the missing girls: and though Darwin is present, no time at all is spent with him; all that happens is that his old man’s needs – for help to the privy, to leave early – screw the day up for everyone else. Everyone else is just as annoying: it made me understand completely why Alice would want to follow a white rabbit down a hole, and why the heroine of this book,Alice’s friend Ada, would want to do the same.
If the book was just Ada in Wonderland, maybe finding new places and people rather than just following in Alice’s footsteps, I think I would have liked it more. But the Wonderland stuff was less about imagination and more about following a path, and that made it less interesting than the original. As I said, if I dearly, deeply loved the original, I’d probably like this book just for the sake of going back there again; but I didn’t love the original, and so I didn’t really like this book.
Well done, just not interesting.