Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Alice I Have Been" by Melanie Benjamin

Product Details
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press (January 12, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385344139
ISBN-13: 978-0385344135

Synopsis from Review
Melanie Benjamin on Alice I Have Been

For an author--at least, for an author like me--the single most important factor when writing a book is the protagonist’s voice. Who is she, what does she sound like, is she strong or weak? Headstrong or passive? If an author doesn’t have a clear vision in her head, writing a novel centering around this person is going to be very, very difficult.

Fortunately for me, I had a clear vision; so clear I could actually see it and read it myself. I was inspired to write Alice I Have Been after unexpectedly viewing a photographic exhibit called "Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll." Among the many photographs there, all taken by the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, one stood out to me. It was of a young girl clad only in rags, but with an expression on her face that stopped me in my tracks. She was so adult, so frank, so worldly, as she gazed at the man behind the camera.

She was 7-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of Dean Henry Liddell of Christ Church, Oxford. It was to her that Lewis Carroll--or Charles Dodgson, as she knew him--told the story of a little girl who tumbled down a rabbit hole. She was the one who begged him to write it down.

I wondered what happened to her after she grew up; I wondered what happened between the two of them to result in such a startling photograph.

I wondered so much that I decided to write about it, write her story in her own "words"--although of course, with historical fiction, I got to make those words up. But she was my protagonist, and immediately the most important factor in writing this novel was known to me. For the girl in the photograph, and the girl in the classic books, were one and the same; they were my Alice, and I knew her voice, I knew who she was because of them. The wise yet wary face in the photograph, the unflappable voice of the girl in the books--all I had to do was capture it on the page.

My task, then, was to show that voice, that personality, maturing naturally through the years as she continued to try to leave Wonderland behind. But the difficult work was done for me, I truly believe, all because of the collaboration between two remarkable people--Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll. What happened between the two of them 150 years ago continues to fascinate and inspire. It gave the world Wonderland, after all--

And it gave me my heroine. Sometimes all you have to do is open your eyes and look around you for inspiration; look at a photograph, read a book. I’m so very glad that I did.--Melanie Benjamin

My thoughts:
I received Alice I Have Been from Pump Up Your Book Tours for review purposes. The description intrigued me and I was really interested in reading it. The book is also available in stores, as I saw it on the shelf at the library last week for checkout.

The premise of the book is that it is about the girl who Alice in Wonderland is based on and her life as she grows into adulthood. According to the notes from Melanie Benjamin at the end of the book she used what facts are available about Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson (who wrote as Lewis Carroll) and then added in her own fictionalization about their lives. Even the facts that are available were open to some interpretation.

As I read this book I felt a mounting sense of urgency to find out the secrets that were hinted at through out. Alice bounces around, she starts as a woman in her eighties who is thinking back on her childhood but at times she is at different stages of her life. Even though some things were revealed earlier in the story I still found myself hoping against evidence to the contrary that things would work out differently. When I finished the novel I was left with a lot of questions especially about Lewis Carroll and who he really was and what he was really like. I may need to look for a biography of him to learn some more.

This was a very intriguing premise for me, I loved the idea of a fictionalized account of real people based on known facts. I think it would be even more interesting to find out, if it is even possible, how close to true Benjamin’s account was.

There were times when I really liked Alice and her independent nature and times when I did not care for her. I don’t know if it was a product of the time but it seemed like an awful lot of the characters ended up going mad or insane, whether it was because they were creative types or from something else, it just seemed like a disproportionately large number. The big question I was left with is would it really be possible for it to take years to recognize love and how fast does life pass when we are busy focusing on the mundane?

About the author from her web page:
Melanie Benjamin was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. An avid reader all her life--as a child, she was the proud winner, several years running, of the summer reading program at her local library--she still firmly believes that a lifetime of reading is the best education a writer can have.

While attending Indiana University--Purdue University at Indianapolis, Melanie performed in many community theater productions before meeting her husband, moving to the Chicago area and raising two sons. Writing was always beckoning, however, and soon she began writing for local magazines and newspapers before venturing into her first love, fiction.

By combining her passion for history and biography, she has found her niche writing historical fiction, concentrating on the "stories behind the stories." ALICE I HAVE BEEN is her first historical novel; she is currently at work on her second, also to be published by Delacorte Press.

She and her family still live in the Chicago area; when she's not writing, she's gardening, taking long walks, rooting for the Cubs--

And reading, of course.


  1. Thanks for the great review of Alice I Have Been. I wasn't sure if I would want to read this one originally, but after the great reviews it has gotten during the tour, I'm adding it to my wish list.

    Your readers can visit to see some of the other blogs where Melanie has stopped during her tour.

    Thanks again.


  2. I'm still on the fence about this one. Thanks for your review

  3. I just read this book and your review pretty much sums up exactly what I was thinking.