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Ask Alice [Paperback]

D J Taylor
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
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Book Description

1 April 2010

Glamorous Alice Keach is one of 1930s London's foremost hostesses. Despite humble American origins, she has secured her place in high society through marriage to one of England's wealthiest bachelors.

But Alice has a secret. Its roots run years back, and miles away, to the dust-blasted prairies of Kansas. It corncerns a lost little boy left under the haphazard guidance of an eccentric uncle. Now, a visit from America looks set to blow apart Alice's glittering pre-eminence forever.

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Ask Alice + Kept: A Victorian Mystery + Derby Day: A Victorian Mystery
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (1 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099531984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099531982
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 864,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"A gripping page-turner filled with surprises, shocks and deep psychological insight... Intelligent, absorbing and most enjoyable" (Independent on Sunday)

"Utterly gripping reading... You are in for a treat" (Literary Review)

"DJ Taylor creates characters who have dynamic spirit and capture the imagination, while the story has the tension of a thriller, the sensitivity of a romance and the wit of an idiosyncratic adventure" (Easy Living)

"Ambitious and immensely accomplished ... above all a meditation on selfhood and memory" (Guardian)

"A highly accomplished novel. It is engrossingly plotted, and its depiction of the vibrant decade leading to the 1929 Crash offers an interesting parallel to our own times" (Simon Humphreys Mail on Sunday)

Book Description

A wonderful novel of concealment and subterfuge, sweeping from Kansas to London, from 1904 to 1936, by the author of Kept - about a woman's rise and fall, the chances she takes and the secret which will undo her.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not in Wonderland 19 April 2009
A gripping 'rags-to-riches' story, which begins on a train in the American Mid-West at the beginning of the 20th century and ends on another train en route to the Spanish Civil War. Just enough of the major facts are left out along the way for there to be a dramatic denouement and resolution of the story at the end. An effective and pleasing idea is the introduction of Beverley Nichols as narrator (in his capacity as journalist) at a point where a new narrative voice is especially welcome. The supporting characters are particularly well drawn.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner. 9 Aug 2009
I read this because I enjoyed DJ Taylor's 'Bright Young People' so much and I was not disappointed. 'Ask Alice' is skilfully constructed, very readable, beautifully written, extremely compelling and is peopled with real characters of the kind we can meet every day. It's in some ways like a 20th Century 'The Way We Live Now' - thankfully somewhat shorter though! A very diverting and thought provoking read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Up-market beach read ... 7 July 2009
Engaging for a quick read, but this is a very forgettable novel. It starts in Kansas in 1904 with a chance meeting on a train then follows Alice's rise from humble beginnings to high society of the 1920s and 30s. Running parallel to this is the story of Ralph Bentley and his eccentric 'uncle' who makes a fortune discovering a new colour/dye which he calls hogpen. (If only that rather banal bookjacket had featured this new colour which I found difficult to envisage!) Unfortunately, Taylor doesn't seem to know what to with his characters and the ending is contrived and silly. Lots of good detail but this book never comes to life.
A much better and more gripping tale of secrets and illegitimacy is Iain Pears' recently-published Stone's Fall. A huge book which I read in a few days because I simply couldn't put it down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER
D.J. Taylor is a curious writer - writes well; good, textured use of language, inhabits period well, creates interesting characters, often manages a splendid line in literary pastiche - Kept: A Victorian Mystery, At the Chime of a City Clock, and I pick up a Taylor book, and each time find myself enjoyably appreciating the craft, and forgetting just why I ended up feeling disappointed with the last one -- because there will come a time, around half way through, where everything begins to turn a bit turgid, there is the sense of a lot of repetition, an overdoing of repeated atmosphere.

It is this which makes me puzzle the accolades which have been heaped on this writer. Something, an incisiveness, an economy, is missing.

It isn't that I expect a furiously driving plot - I very much like books where the mystery and depth unfold, and where detail is put in that gives a three dimensionality - but there should always be some sort of superobjective which keeps the author in focus, and avoids the flabby.

And so I found the problem, again, with Ask Alice. A promising story of how a young girl in Kansas in the early part of the twentieth century, from a pretty ruinous start, climbs out of poverty into high society in England, and is later connected with her past again. No spoilers - the dust jacket of the book explains this. I really enjoyed Taylor's evocations of time and place, social observations, the teeming cast of characters, but somehow, instead of all this gathering itself up and ravelling and unravelling with momentum, it begins, after a while, to plod.

There is the frustrating feeling that if only Taylor could vigorously prune his creations, a better story teller would be revealed
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A tedious read 23 May 2010
I bought this book at a recent literary festival attended by D.J.Taylor and his wife Rachel Hore. She was giving a creative writing workshop and as his name never appeared under Speakers I can only assume that he was also involved with the writing class. And this was the feel the book had for me - more of a writing exercise than a novel I would read for pleasure. I felt he would have been better suited to writing short stories as there were spurts of interest along the way, but added together this novel became hard work. It took me nearly 2 weeks to read and I only finished because I had to lead the discussion at our reading group.

The central character is Alice, a teenage orphan from Kansas City, travelling to live with relatives in Bellevue. When the train breaks down en route she agrees to accompany Drouett, a salesman she had been talking to on the train, for dinner at a nearby hotel. She never re-boards the train. This sounds like a potential opening for an exciting story, but no, it is just one of many unexplained episodes in this novel. Eventually she makes her way to England by boat but we are never told why or how.
In a parallel story, that skips back and forth in time in relation to Alice's movements, we meet Ralph, also seemingly orphaned, who lives in a large mansion with servants and an elderly lady. When the lady dies he ends up with "Uncle", the brother of one of the servants, who strangely takes on the role of father to a boy he has never previously met. I'd already had enough and I was only 1/3 through the book.

Some interesting character deescriptions but I lost interest in their motives well before the end, which was also an anticlimax.
Witin our book group five of us had finished this and the score out of 5 was unanimously 2 to 3.
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