I'm not sure if I would have picked up this book if I had been at the bookstore. I wasn't too thrilled about the cover, but the blurb was intriguing, and it was described as a modern take on the Alice in Wonderland storyline, so I thought, why not give it a go?
And boy, am I glad I did! This is one of the most amazing books I have read lately. Taken by itself, there's nothing spectacular about any aspect of this book on its own - but taken together, as a big whole, you're in for an experience.
My first impression when I started reading this book is that this is serious chick-lit (and no, that is not an oxymoron! And that's why the cover didn't sit well with me - this book could do with a lighter, quirkier, chick-lit cover!) Chick-lit can be light, funny, but serious as well and provoke questions inside your brain - exactly what Ms. Smith accomplishes with Alison Wonderland. The book is described as literature - it is, but at the same time, it's not dry, stuff-it-down-your-throat British literature. Let's just say it's a cross between the lightness of Jane Austen, the humour of Janet Evanovich reminiscent of the Stephanie Plum novels but with a dry, totally British twist that makes you chuckle loudly instead of bursting into laughter, all amid a world of suspended fantasy.
Let's see if we can elaborate on that description. The book and its plot is light - no saving the Third World or big reflections of the kind here. And the humour - British wit at its best. Anyone who loves British humour will dig this story (and there's talks of Alison Wonderland being made into a TV series - I say 'bring it on'! I can totally see this as a typically Brit TV show in the style of Being Human).
As to the suspended fantasy... let's just say I've never read anything like this before. The story takes place in modern London and England, but this take that Ms. Smith infuses into the location turns the world-building into a full facet of the book. Imagine a psychic postman who gets a psychic message from a witch warning him that so-and-so is in danger, and he writes down the note on a postcard and slips it through your mailbox - there's nothing more mundane than a postman sliding a postcard in a mail box, right? So that's why this, and other such fantastic episodes and happenings in the story, strike you. When you put this book down, you start to look at the world around you with different eyes - maybe, just maybe, what you see is not the reality you imagine it is... And that's a strength of Ms. Smith's writing, making you question your reality in a subtle, curious way.
Another strength of this book is the characterization. Like many books by British authors, this story and its plot focuses on the characters. It is these people living inside the book that take you places and show you their world - their quirks, their foibles, this little sneaky peek into their minds. The POV hops between chapters and that's a little confusing at first, but you get into the rhythm along the way. Throw in some Brit pop culture references - such as how Alison's friend Taron kinda looks like an old flame of Prince Andrew and they're travelling to an area where there are lots of army men, so possibly they could fall on the prince himself; not to mention Jaffa Cakes, liquorice allsorts, and Wagon Wheels (making me crave British sweets and biscuits, darn!) - and you feel like you're in England right along with Alison on her quirky journey.
All in all, a book to be added to your to-read list. There's something almost magical about Alison Wonderland, and I cannot wait for you to discover it for yourself.