Friday, January 15, 2010

New This Week: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Readers who enjoyed 2007’s Loving Frank by Nancy Horan are likely to be similarly enamored by Melanie Benjamin’s view through the looking glass with Alice I Have Been (Delacorte).

Like Loving Frank, Alice I Have Been fictionalizes the life of a real person in a way that is more creative and artful than biographical. Benjamin’s portrayal of the person Charles Dodgson -- who wrote as Lewis Carroll -- based his Alice character upon.

In her portrayal, Benjamin shows Alice Liddell’s entire life to have been directly impacted by having being immortalized as that girl from Wonderland. In Alice I Have Been Benjamin focuses on three periods in Liddell’s life: her childhood, when she actually met Dodgson; her young womanhood at Oxford; and as a wife and mother during World War I.

There has been much historical speculation about the nature of the relationship between the child who was Alice when Wonderland was created and Dogdson. Historically, there are loose ends in the story: ends that are unlikely to ever be tied up. In Benjamin’s telling, however, Dodgson himself fares better than he might have done. For the most part, Benjamin has opted to make her tale a sometimes dark, but gentle one. Considering some of the whispers in the intervening years, Benjamin’s choice was kind. But don’t read Alice I Have Been as a biography, at least, not your first time through. It is a memorable and even magical book. A good story. Sure, the historical relevance offers up some bonus tracks, but if you come to Alice I Have Been just to enjoy the feature, you won’t be disappointed.

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