It's a rare occasion when I pick a book to read based on cover or title alone, but I was definitely first drawn to Helen Smith's novel for it's clever title - Alison Wonderland - and it was these opening lines that really made me want to read it:
"My name's Alison Temple and I used to have this line when people asked me if I'm married. I'd say 'I'm waiting for Mr. Wonderland and when I find him I'll get married. Until then I'm staying single.' The kind of people who need to know whether or not you're married don't see the humor in a joke like that."So begins the story, and the off-beat amusement continues through the entie novel.
Alison Temple is a detective who works under the name Alison Wonderland - giving this quirky novel its charming name. Far from a traditional mystery, the story is almost more a comedy of errors and coincidences, with a splash of magical realism mixed it. A wonderful cast of fresh, unique and expertly drawn characters drive the slightly disjointed plot and Helen Smith's humorous descriptions - painting the most ordinary of situations in a creative light - provide a great flare of color to the text.I've already had some interesting discussion with Helen Smith about this book. I won't disclose the question I asked - as it spoils a key plot point in the book - but her reply was really interesting. Even though, at first, I wanted something in the book to be different, I came to see that Ms. Smith really did choose the better outcome.
I probably would have enjoyed this book more if Alison's character had been a little less rough around the edges. With careless drug use and somewhat ambivalent feelings for Jeff, the neighbor who is in love with her; I had a hard time relating to her as the protagonist. However, I was drawn into her story and found myself caring a lot about the secondary characters in the book.
Even though I wasn't blown away by this novel, I was really impressed with Helen Smith's writing. She artfully captures simplicity in complex words and has a remarkable talent for humorous observation. Although Alison Wonderland was not my favorite, I will likely read more of Smith's work.
Have you ever read a book and wanted something in the plot to be different? On second look, did you ever decide that the author's way really was better than yours?
And stay tuned this week for my interview with Helen Smith!