...beware the claws that catch...
It's a warm Thursday afternoon. I can hear someone mowing the grass outside and the edge of my desk is pressing familiar indents into my forearms. I've been slicing up my work hours over the Easter holidays. A few hours here and there instead of long blocks. In some ways, working from home feels busier, but it's just so much more quiet. Aside from working, I've been doing some housework, playing Animal Crossing as usual and I recently completed one of my favourite series of all time, Gravity Falls. On top of that, I've been returning to some favourite childhood books. S.F Said's Varjak Paw series, Anna Dale's Whispering to Witches and I will undoubtedly dig up one of the battered copies from my Jacqueline Wilson pile. It's safe to say that my tastes have always been somewhat deliberately regressing into my childhood. I have never enjoyed horror. Gore and violence keeps me awake at night, and if I do sleep I always have awful nightmares. I considered watching Supernatural for the first time an adventurous choice, just so you know who you're dealing with.
If you were to observe me in my natural habitat, pouring endless cups of tea, excitedly gesticulating over animals and shuffling around in various states fluffy pyjamas, you would never suspect what's going on inside me right at this moment. You would never guess that under all of the smiles, the dedicated working at my desk, and the watering of flowers on Animal Crossing, that I am suffering from a terrible case of Book Limbo. Have you heard of it? Book Limbo is the frustrating and crushing feeling of enjoying a book so fully that when it finally comes to an end, you feel two main emotions. Complete disinterest in any other book and the feeling that you are betraying an entire world by walking away from it.
I'm talking about Alice by Christina Henry. I had just finished Whispering to Witches and when I returned it to my bookshelf, I set about immediately finding another book to devour. The thought of actually devouring my books is quite a violent and grotesque image in itself, and I found myself thinking about a terrifying book-devouring monster for longer than I should have done when it dawned on me as a strange phrase. I imagined a thin, papery animal with ink-black eyes, unhinging its jaw and dryly swallowing as many stories as it could find. Then again, many of us have read books we wish we could get closer to or crawl inside. I never anticipated that a reimagining of The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland would be one of those books, especially not one of the horror variety. I have always inexplicably related to Alice. Ever since I was little, I insisted on watching the Disney version over and over and over again, which displeased mostly everyone else. My family and friends found it to be the least interesting and most boring Disney film, and couldn't understand where I was finding my enjoyment. Later, when I read the books, I fell even more in love with the stories. I even blended my own life with Wonderland in a reflective piece about growing up, my experiences, and my eventual job as a teacher.
I picked up Alice without thinking too much about whether or not I would like it. I reminded myself that it had been an impulse buy in Waterstones (because we were in a rush to reach the food court before the shopping centre closed) and that it would be a waste for me to never read it just because it was a horror. I loved the original stories, so why shouldn't I try it? No less than a minute after the final word of Whispering to Witches, I was immersed in Alice. I cannot explain what it was that held me to the page, but I felt physically incapable of tearing myself away from the words. I did find it difficult to cope with the subject matter at times and I would recommend you judge the risk for yourself before diving in, but the characters of Alice and Hatcher were so complex and addictive that I had completed the book by the next day. I think what Christina Henry did was capture something that was so subtle and implicit in the original stories, and brought it right to the forefront. There is an aggressiveness and a violence and a cruelty in the original stories. Even in the Disney version, the Hatter and the Hare are intimidating and scary, and the flowers are manipulative and bad tempered. On top of everything else, there is a complete lack of control as Alice is thrown around Wonderland by the angry, impatient and insistent beings who live there. Christina Henry channeled all of this perfectly and created utterly terrifying villains. As someone who is pretty hesitant when it comes to violence and gore, I felt that the way it was navigated in Alice was entirely purposeful and necessary, and that I found myself so relieved and exhilirated by the fighting and the violence which was quick and exacting instead of drawn-out and needlessly spurting. This is not to say the novel isn't bloodthirsty or gruesome, as it most certainly is, but it was done in such a way that every drop of blood felt deliberate. This was not a lazy retelling, it was an excellent insight into what the characters could be.
I realise now that my subconscious excitement for this novel sprang somewhat from my previous enjoyment of Alice: Madness Returns, another dark retelling. However, it was never quite enough for me and there was something missing. Alice is exactly what I needed and I highly recommend it.
However! There is excellent news. Although I am doing my very best to keep all online shopping to essential-items-only, finding out that Alice and Hatcher's story continues in The Red Queen might tempt me a little bit too much. If I can just get hold of it, I can finally break out of the Book Limbo.
Take care saplings x