A short and simple review for a smaller book that was definitely out of my normal reading genre. I thought it would be a good one to stretch me out of my comfort zone, but I just couldn't get into it. By the end of the book, I was confused, lost and kind of ready for it to end.
If you like a little story, with some quirkiness and some magic, this one would be one you could pick up.
Helen Smith's "Alison Wonderland" already has a strange life--what with her psychic postman--but when she becomes a private detective things get even more bizarre when she meets a man who loves a shig, "the fattest, woolliest animal on earth, the product of a union between a pig and a sheep". Being an investigator isn't all glamour and Alison often has to struggle to hold on to the difference between working in a boring job and being a detective working in a boring job. But at least it's not just the expected, run of the mill sleaze, double-crossing and corruption; there's also secret crayfish fishermen, lemon sweets and, of course, the shig. It's this mammoth animal that lies at the heart of Project Brown Dog--an investigation that Alison leads to uncover sinister animal eugenics being orchestrated in the name of commerce by a company in Weymouth.
This is the case that lends Alison Wonderland narrative drive, although Helen Smith's tentative, exploratory style sits uncomfortably within the adventure story set-up. Smith's strength comes to the fore when she's drifting, observing the incidentals of life; "the comforting smells like dog's paws when they wake up from a long sleep" and the rustling of voracious Japanese knotweed as it invades the pavements of Brixton. There's even an intricate Venn diagram sketched to ponder the sagging skin and drooping breasts on show at Tooting Bec Lido. It's this clean, seemingly effortless voice that gives Alison Wonderland an impressive edge and will make her second novel one worth watching out for. --Jane Honey
This book was such a fun and quirky read. The stories were interesting and unique making it easy to finish quickly. I would love to read more by this author.
Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith
Release Date: August 16th, 2011
Page Count: 189
Source: ARC from Little Bird Publicity for review
"I need some information. Can you help me get it?"
"OK." I'm opening my post but I have a pen and pad ready.
"I need some statistics about which part of the country babies are abandoned most often, what time of year, and where to find them -- outside hospitals or police stations or under hedges or in phone boxes."
"Oh, OK. Yes, of course." I move the phone receiver into my left hand and hold it against my left ear so that I can make some notes. Mad cow, I write.
After Alison Temple discovers that her husband is cheating on her, she does what any jilted woman would do: She spray-paints a nasty message for him on her wedding dress and takes a job with the detective firm that found him out. Being a researcher at the all-female Fitzgerald's Bureau of Investigation in London is certainly a change of pace from her previous life, especially considering the characters Alison meets in the line of duty. There's her boss, the estimable Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison's eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbor; and -- last but not least! -- her psychic postman. Together, their idiosyncrasies and their demands on Alison threaten to drive her mad... if she didn't need and love them all so much. Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, Alison Wonderland is a literary novel about a memorable heroine coping with the everyday complexities of modern life.
What Stephanie Thinks: I will say that Helen Smith, like all British literary novelists do, has a certain restless charm in her writing. For once though, I didn't totally fall in love with the story behind it.
Alison Wonderland premise doesn't even sound terribly exciting; from the blurb, I hardly gain an understanding of what exactly, the plot and main point of the book is. After reading it, I still haven't gained a sense of it. Such a shame, because it's a completely readable novel. The prose is paradoxically both smooth in tone and choppy in structure. It sounds weird, but it fits well. Alison's insights are attentive, and her friends amicable. But the storyline is so erratic: random crimes occur and fantastical creatures appear, which I cannot relate to the book at all -- and it overall makes for a confusing and tiresome read.
To sum this book up, I would say it's a bit of Sherlock Holmes meets Bridget Jones... except a little lot hilarious and a lot less sexy. However, in my opinion, the cleverness and conscience Smith discloses through her writing parallel with those of Doyle and Fielding, so it isn't all that bad of a read.
Stephanie Loves: "I stare out at the sea, trying to make out the horizon. I cannot see where the sea ends and the sky begins. The stars are very bright, a shower of electric lights. When I look back at the sea I can see the stars reflected in the water. I didn't notice them before; I only saw the blackness. I can't see where the sky ends and the sea begins."
Radical Rating: 6 hearts-Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back.