Perhaps I've lived in a void all my life, but I really didn't know that the Alice of Alice in Wonderland was based on an actual little girl. So once I heard that Melanie Benjamin had created an historical novel based on the events surrounding the life of the real Alice, I was immediately intrigued. What I discovered upon reading was that Alice Liddell was a great deal like the famous Alice, and that, despite what all she did in her long life, the shadow of that famous tale followed her, for good or for ill.
The story of Alice, her sisters, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), and their interwoven history begins with Alice as a young child recounting her fascination with Mr. Dodgson. The real Alice was just as forward, just as imaginative as her fictional counterpart, and Mr. Dodgson capitalized on these traits through the photographs he took of her. Precocious Alice's determination to seek the spotlight cause her to buck the restrictions placed on her actions by her Victorian mother, and she finds that even at such a young age, she is in love with Mr. Dodgson. The ultimate break that comes in their friendship is danced around throughout the book, but we're led to believe it's quite bad and ruinous for both parties. Indeed, Alice finds the heavy shadow of that one summer afternoon haunting her throughout her life, affecting even her relationship with the Queen's son Leopold.
Ms. Benjamin has woven a highly believable tale of Alice Liddell and her life through and beyond the Wonderland years, evoking sympathy for a childhood lost and an adulthood filled with what-ifs. I admit I became a little frustrated with the constant allusions to whatever act caused the break between Alice's family and Mr. Dodgson, but ultimately the truth was revealed exactly as it should have been. Ms. Benjamin truly has a gift with words and she conjures the Victorian age, romance, and loss well. I was enchanted with this story, and would actually give it 4.5 stars for my overall enjoyment. Recommended.