Title: Alice I Have Been
Author: Melanie Benjamin
Release Date: January 12, 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 5 out of 5
Alice Liddell Hargreaves is an lonely old woman now, but once she was full of passion, fire, and true love. As a child, she was the muse of Mr. Dodgson, a professor at Oxford who used the pen name Lewis Carroll, and inspired the seminal classic that has been read and loved by millions. What Alice doesn’t realize, though, is that her life will be both illuminated and shrouded by just one day in her life, a day when, at eleven years old, her life changes forever.
Alice I Have Been is a beautiful and incredibly written book that is difficult to describe. It’s hard to pinpoint why it is so wonderful because there isn’t just one reason; the book as a whole is expertly crafted. Melanie Benjamin’s writing is simply sublime; it is the thread that holds the entire narrative together. It is fluid, poetic, and entirely alluring, drawing the reader into Alice’s story and making sure they stay there until the book is over.
The depiction of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is both fascinating and disturbing. While he isn’t explicitly portrayed as a pedophile, he definitely has an inappropriate relationship with Alice. There is an emotional connection between the two that is very difficult to comprehend and entirely disquieting. Benjamin manages to show it with dignity and grace, something that is very difficult to do with such a perturbing subject. By showing the friendship through the innocent eyes of Alice, Benjamin manages to turn something sinister into a childhood affection, without removing its disturbing quality.
Alice herself is an incredibly interesting character that is expertly written. She is naive and innocent at times, but also incredibly aware of how the world works. She lives her entire life in the shadow of a book that features her, yet sometimes seems to be not about her at all. It’s up to Alice to rediscover the girl inside her, especially in the face of tragedy and despair.
I also appreciated how closely Melanie Benjamin stuck to Alice Liddell’s real history in Alice I Have Been. Though this isn’t exactly a historical novel, she has a long Author’s Note at the back of the book in which she explains what is fact, what is fiction, and what parts of the book blur the lines between the two. It’s very gratifying that Benjamin chose to stick that close to true events; it’s clear that she undertook a lot of research before embarking on the journey that was Alice I Have Been.
Alice I Have Been is an incredible story that literary fiction fans won’t want to miss. It’s not necessary to have an intimate knowledge of Lewis Carroll’s books in order to understand the book, though I’m sure it’s helpful in appreciating its subtlety. Some background on Carroll/Dodgson is helpful, though a quick perusal of he section about Alice on his Wikipedia page is all the information you really need. It’s an incredibly creative and well-written book that I can’t recommend highly enough.