Another ALICE

alice-cover-399x600As you can see from the cover, this ALICE is not from Lewis Carroll. We first meet Christina Henry’s Alice in a horrid madhouse—the kind where you sleep on the floor, kept docile by powders with your meals. Object, and the sleep-inducing powders become injections that leave you drooling.

All this Alice has are her conversations with a man named Hatcher; conversations that take place through a mouse hole.

But the Jabberwock lives under the madhouse, and when the place catches fire, the Jabberwock escapes. So do Hatcher and Alice.

Hatcher takes Alice to his grandmother, who tells them that only the two of them can kill the Jabberwock, because all the Magicians are gone. And off they go. To find their way, they must visit Mr. Cheshire. Then they must deal with criminal lords named Mr. Carpenter, Mr. Walrus, and the Rabbit. Alice learns why she and Hatcher were in the madhouse, and grows from a scared girl to a tough woman.

Alice’s Wonderland was never like this.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice tales can be oddly creepy, but they’ve got nothing on this dark and bloody story. I’m not usually one for dark and bloody, but Alice and Hatcher are such strong, interesting characters, and the parallels with the original so much fun, that I enjoyed every page.

I finished this novel just in time for the sequel to be published. But I appreciate that ALICE ended completely, with a sense of more to come, but not a cliffhanger that insists that you purchase the next one. As an obstinate sort, I often just stay hanging on that cliff, rather than give in.

This time, however, I look forward to RED QUEEN.

cheshire-cat1p.s. I prefer the original Tenniel drawings to the Disney Version.

Lolly Willowes: Old fashioned novel, new fashioned weirdness.

Written in 1926 and re-released in 1999 with an introduction by Alison Lurie, the book has now made its way to Kindle, where I found it.lollywillowesfirsted

But if you don’t like Jane Austen, where some people feel that nothing happens, you won’t like this. If you want a book made up of Important Events or and Exciting Narrative, you won’t like this.

I loved it.

Laura Willowes grows up on the family estate, where she roams around the countryside, learns to distill herbs into useful potions, is companion to her father, and does not marry. As a result, when her father dies, she must, of course, go to live with her brother’s family in London, where she becomes Aunt Lolly, or Miss Willowes. Laura disappears, subsumed in the life of a useful spinster. For twenty years.

That covers almost half of the novel. But before she, and we, are half asleep, Laura decides to go live by herself in Great Mop, Buckinghamshire. There, she wanders the woodlands, happily alone. There she meets the Loving Huntsman of the title (who is Satan, although he isn’t very evil), and learns that she’s a witch. gamekeeper

But witches have to do good, or evil, and she just wants to be left alone.

The prose is meandering, evocative, and unlike anything I’ve ever read. Although it’s a new discovery for me, it’s been through 93 editions, from London, New York, Paris, Leipzig, and Milan. In France it was shortlisted for the Prix Femina. It was the very first Book Of The Month in the U.S.. In 2014, Robert McCrum chose it as one of the 100 Best Novels in English.

I hope that students now read this as a matter of course. In my day, we didn’t.

As Alison Lurie writes in her introduction to the 1999 re-release of this astonishing novel:

“Three years later, Virginia Woolf was to make the same point , saying that if a woman wants to be more than a household appliance, if she is to have a life of her own . . . she must have freedom and privacy and “a room of one’s own.” She spoke, as we now know, for thousands of women then and in years to some.But Sylvia Townsend Warner spoke for them first.”


Learning with Charles de Lint

someplace-to-flyRecently, I was laid up with a bad knee and a bad cold. Sometimes I could write. Sometimes my head was too full of mucus. Then I took refuge in re-reading books I have liked. Serendipity joined me in that effort, teaching me how and what to focus my own writing on.

I began to re-read the novels of Charles de Lint. (Note: you can find all the books I mention on de Lint’s website.)

I haven’t read all of his books—there are a lot of them. Among the ones I have read, my favorite is Someplace to be Flying. Instead of jumping right to that, however, I picked up Spirit in the Wires, probably because my husband had spent the weekend fighting with his desktop computer.  Spirit in the Wires is about magical beings who hijack a website. From that, I learned that de Lint’s endless, inventive detail is what makes his books so readable and popular. Since I began as a playwright, where short and elliptical is the way to go, I needed that lesson for my novels.

Then I re-read Medicine Road, where the main characters clearly have appeared in another story–a story I only vaguely remembered. This novel takes place in the desert, which has joined de Lint’s made-up city of Newford as a location for many of his novels. Serendipity being what it is, I then picked up one of his collections of shorter works, Tapping the Dream Tree. In it, I discovered a story about pixels becoming evil pixies—precursor to Spirit in the Wires—as well as the novella that pre-dates  Medicine Road.

De Lint’s stories connect characters as well as places. The main character in one novel becomes a side character in another, and vice-versa. Because they all live in or near one of his story places, the overlaps are very satisfying.

So what have I learned? Not just to write the details, but to stick with a setting that works. For me, I think that will be The Dry Country. Stay tuned!