V.r. Christensen's Reviews > Alice I Have Been

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
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's review
Aug 19, 2012

really liked it

This book was rather haunting. I'm not sure how else to put it. It's not a feel good story, by any means. However, Ms. Benjamin's writing is compelling and her plot construction was not only faultless, but exemplary. This book was clearly written from the heart by someone who had the courage to delve into what it might have been like to be Alice. Ms. Benjamin's gentle care with the controversies surrounding the young Miss Lidell and her one time friend Mr. Dodgson (aka Lewis Caroll) was very much appreciated, and I felt that her portrayal of a young girl caught up in something too big for her seven year old self to define, much less discuss, was extremely deftly handled. The question of what actually happened between them is not answered until the final pages, and was perfectly answered in a surprising, but very honest way. This isn't a story about sexual abuse, it's a story about forbidden love, and the complications and complexities that arise when one is forced to grow up too soon.

I felt Ms. Benjamin had a good grasp of Victorian values and mores, and placed her characters very appropriately within that setting, and that that attention to detail and setting carried through until the end. No one truly knows what happened between Dodgson and Miss Lidell and perhaps no one ever will, but here, at least, is an honest attempt to portray the side of the confused young girl. No aspersions are cast, no condemnations made. Neither do I think it is a romanticised depiction of child lust, as some of the other reviews seem to suggest. A feeling of guilt and shame pervade on her side, as well as a sense that Dodgson was dealing, and for the most part successfully, with his own demons.

I truly felt that Ms. Benjamin had fleshed out Alice in a way that made her highly relatable, and opened up, in a way I've rarely experienced in a book, a pathway for reconciliation and understanding, of ourselves, and of history. I'm grateful for this sensitively written novel.

I gave it four rather than five stars because it was a bit of a tough read for me, emotionally speaking. The subject matter, at least that alluded to, is difficult, but Ms. Benjamin handled it with great tact, addressing the emotional repercussions of what may have happened between Mr. Dodgson and his muse. And yet those emotions are drawn so vibrantly, it is difficult not to live them oneself, or to relive them as the case may be.
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