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Book Review: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith

 Book Review: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith

Sometimes I think Im a bit of a slow learner. Why is it that the books I put off reading the longest are always the ones that end up resonating with me the most? Perhaps its that Im getting old and the plasticity of my brain isnt what it used to be, or that Im settling quite comfily into the staid mindset that comes with becoming a proper adult, where at the end of each day, my overworked mind wants nothing more than to fling off its confining business-like trappings and slump into the intellectual equivalent of woolly slippers and and a Snuggie?

All I can say is that Im glad that every now and then some literary singleton drags my poor little brain out for a spin. And yes, Alison Wonderland is indeed one of those books. If Lewis Carroll, Haruki Murakami, and Ulrich Beck got together and ate too many Smarties, snorted some lines of sherbet and then span around in circles for a good five minutes, this is the book they would subsequently sit down to write. Its both surreal and hyperreal, and its very, very strange and very, very funny.

Freshly free of her cheating spouse, Alison Temple takes a position working as a freelance investigator. But as she sets about following suspicious married types aboutnote: your wayward partner may merely be, ahem, casting his rod for actual fish, not for other fish in the seashe finds herself the subject of a bizarre investigation that is the result of a series of communicative blunders and assumptions, largely one involving a presumed intelligence and craftiness that is well beyond what the addled Alison, whose mind is always late for a very important date, exhibits. And thus, while Alison is off daytripping (and tripping) by the sea, in search of cabbage patch babies and witchy-poo myths, the authorities are cobbling together dozens of bits of wrongly interpreted evidence that theyre convinced proves that Alison is an activist mastermind bent on taking down the worlds GMO operations. Let this be a warning to those of you who care to mark down your friends star signs in your address book.

A frothy mix of plaited plotlines that weave in and out of our world and one very much beyond it, Alison Wonderland is a novel of sleuthing after cheating lovers, of genetic engineering, of undefined relationships and of the grit of London. Or at least, it seems to bereality is very much a thing of question here. This is a novel whose verve and delight exists at the apogee of its plot, with its true appeal being in the hurdy-gurdy of Smiths prose and her ability to slap the reader with a cod of insight that in other books would flail limply about on the page. She blends the mundane and the banal with the serious and the intellectual, and serves it up with a garnish of the absurdity that is a comedy of errors.

Along with assessments of social activists who rue that a social conscience doesnt leave much time for a social life, were fed such sweet morsels as that involving the outlaw status of the Jaffa Cake, the Robin Hood of the snack world due to its VAT-exempt status; we shuffle ashamedly along with such painfully true statements as the businessperson who says I never see my family while meaning see how attractive I am; my wife still loves me even though I ignore her except to talk about work, and cringe at oh-she-didnt moments such as where Alison objects to her friend Taron tying red protective ribbons to their foundling pseudo-daughters clothing because she looks too much like an AIDS fashion statement.

Like the Carroll novel that is its namesakealthough other than its down-the-rabbit-hole dreaminess of this volume, theres little else to connect the twoAlison Wonderland is the kind of book that stirs up all of the ignored gunk at the bottom of a fishpond and sets it seething to the surface, where you cant help but see it, no matter how much you want to pretend you havent. Its embarrassing and abrasive, and its also surprisingly beautiful, if, of course, a novel that involves sheep-pig bestiality can be called beautiful.

Rating: star Book Review: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smithstar Book Review: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smithstar Book Review: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smithstar Book Review: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smithblankstar Book Review: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith (excellent)

With thanks to the author for the review copy.

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  1. Great start to the weekend. Sunshine and a brilliant review for Alison Wonderland:

  2. Great review! Ive had this on my to-read list for awhile now, but Ive yet to see a copy of it in a store (or read a review for that matter!). Perhaps Ill have to dig a little more. Loved the line about Carroll, Murakami, and Beck. Made me giggle. ;)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Randi! Its a crazy, bizarre thing, but if you love word-play and absurdism, I dont doubt youll enjoy it.:)

  3. Its perfect weather for a Snuggie Stephanie!

    Alison Wonderland sounds like a really good read and i probably wouldnt have guessed what its about from the cover.

    • Stephanie /

      Im still a bit too fashion forward to venture into Snuggie land, but Im definitely teetering on the precipice of blanketing snuggliness!

      Its a wonderfully surreal, beautiful read, and its one of those clever books that bumbles along seemingly witlessly, but in doing so points out so many truths about the society in which we live. I had a good giggle over the GMO scenes, which took me back to my readings of Ulrich Becks The Risk Society at uni!

  4. sounds interesting, might need to check it out

  5. This sounds like the almost-perfect book for me, will be hunting a copy down soon! Thanks for the great review :)

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure! Its great fun, and quite the eye-opening read as well. I do hope you enjoy it!