Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Alice I Have Been"

Melanie Benjamin, as Melanie Hauser, has published two contemporary novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Alice I Have Been, her first historical novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Alice I Have Been is actually very representative of the whole book, which is about the long, eventful life of Alice Liddell, whose childhood relationship with Charles Dodgson(aka Lewis Carroll) resulted in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This page falls in the middle of a pivotal scene in which Dodgson is photographing the seven-year-old Alice in secret, resulting in the famous photograph of her as a beggar child that actually inspired me to write the book in the first place. Her older sister, Ina, has just discovered the two of them in a far corner of the garden; her growing jealousy and suspicion of the relationship is evident with her first sentence of dialogue to Alice:
“I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“I stole her,” Mr. Dodgson said with a smile for Ina, a conspiratorial wink for me. “I kidnapped her.”

“You?” Now I believed she was going to cry; she blinked her eyes, over and over, and took a step back, just as Mr. Dodgson turned to greet her.

“I’m afraid so. It was such a lovely day, I sent round a note this morning.”

“Just for Alice?” Ina managed to smooth her face, turning a deceptively placid gaze toward him.

“Yes, you see—I knew you would be such a help to your mother today, so I couldn’t possibly have been so selfish as to send for you. How is she, may I ask?” He smiled at her, so unruffled; I had to admire him. I knew I couldn’t have manufactured such a smashing lie on such short notice. I hadn’t imagined him to be capable of deception; today had been a revelation, in so many ways.
This section illustrates so well one of the central themes of the book, which is nothing is at it seems. Alice, at seven, is not sure why Dodgson isn’t entirely truthful to Ina (he lies about the reason for not sending for her); she only knows that he is, and that she, Alice, is the reason. This scene also illustrates her growing awareness of her power over this man, a power that, as a child, she cannot understand. She can only know that it’s there, and she boldly reaches for it, grabs it, and that will be the tragedy of both their lives. Ina, her sister, doesn’t understand what she’s seeing either, but she jumps to her own conclusion; a conclusion that will set in motion tragic events. And Charles Dodgson, the only adult present, instinctively lies to protect himself and Alice from—what, exactly? They were only taking a photograph in a garden. Yet he, too, knows that others may look at the scene and see it for something that it is not. Or is it? The truth remains hidden from them all, until it is too late. Lives have already been damaged irreparably; Wonderland is lost forever. None of the participants in this pivotal scene on page 69 will ever be the same.
Read an excerpt from Alice I Have Been, and learn about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue