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Alison Wonderland [Kindle Edition]

Helen Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (262 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Q&A with Helen Smith

The clever title of your book is a direct reference to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. How has that book and its genre of smart, literary "nonsense" influenced your writing?

Helen Smith: I adored Alice's Adventures in Wonderland when I was a child. I loved the clever wordplay, the absurd situations, and the strange characters--not all of them sympathetic. I have to warn Lewis Carroll fans that any direct reference to his work in my book begins and ends with the pun in the title, but I have no doubt that I have been influenced by everything I have ever read, including his books. I was lucky that I read a prodigious amount when I was younger.

Q: Alison Wonderland has been praised for its unique cast of characters. Are you particularly fond of any one character, and what was your inspiration for him or her?

HS: I like all the characters, even the baddies, but Alison is the one I'm most fond of. She likes to think she has the measure of everyone else, but she doesn't have much insight about her own situation. She's flawed but funny--a grumpier version of me.

Q: The idea of genetically altered food is a little scary and has been in the news a lot. What drew you to use that concept as a backdrop for the plot?

HS: Most of my characters are on a mission of some kind. I'm impressed by people who are drawn to a cause, so I was very interested when I read about young people protesting about genetically modified vegetables. Many of us care deeply about the treatment of people and animals, but of all the things to get exercised about, a vegetable is not the first that most would think of. There's a very good argument that genetically modified crops, if they can be bred to be more resistant to disease, will help people in the developing world fight famine. But it's also true that we take the advances of science and use them too lightly, without considering the consequences. I love the passion and commitment of young eco-warriors who care enough to call those in authority to account.

Q: Taron greatly influences Alison's actions and brings out her more adventurous side. Is there anyone in your life whom you have adventures with?

HS: I traveled all over the world with my daughter when she was small, and I have been fortunate to have some very good friends who have got up to all sorts of mischief with me over the years--but there has been no one quite like Taron. If there's anyone out there like her, I wouldn't mind an introduction.

Q: You are very well traveled, but you set the novel in London and Weymouth. What made you choose those locations?

HS: I live in London and I love it. I wanted the city to feature almost as a character in the book, and I was keen to introduce some landmarks that readers might not be familiar with, like the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park and the eccentric little alleyways in Brixton, where the doorway to Mrs. Fitzgerald's detective agency is located. I spent my teenage years near Weymouth and my parents still live there, so I wanted to use some of those locations: the Cerne Abbas Giant, for example, and the Weymouth pier--though, sadly, that has now been pulled down.

Q: Alison seems to be anti-marriage. How do you think she would have responded to the royal wedding craze in her hometown of London?

HS: I think she'd probably have responded much as I did: pretended to have no interest at all, then got caught up in the pageantry and enjoyed the occasion. It was a lovely sunny day here, and almost everyone had the day off. There were street parties and house parties, and the celebrations were incredibly good-natured. Alison can be a bit curmudgeonly, but even she would have found it difficult to resist the charms of the day.

Q: Alison's interaction with the baby, Phoebe, seems to affect her deeply. How has being a single mother impacted your writing?

HS: A line in the book, "I never realized before that taking care of someone makes you love them more than when they take care of you," describes my experience of being a parent. I had my daughter when I was very young, and it was the strangest and still the best thing that has ever happened to me. The insights and wisdom that I gained--and my sense of wonder at having a child who just turned up in my life but was never anything less than wanted and fiercely loved--permeate my writing.

Q: Is there anything else about the book you think an American reader should know? Are there really tunnels under the Thames?

HS: I've been working with a theater producer to find the perfect setting for a play I'm writing, and we have investigated underground venues. There are World War II bomb shelters that have been turned into archive storage facilities, abandoned tube stations, foot passages and railway tunnels still in use under the Thames, and a Royal Mail network crisscrossing under London that was recently decommissioned. But I don't think any of them are used the way the tunnels are used in the book. I hope not, anyway!

From Booklist

"...Smith's sharp and eviscerating humor, social acuity, and hectic plot create a deliciously dizzying underground quest in a Wonderland rife with life-or-death riddles, hybrid creatures, drugs that bring one up or down, delusions, tyranny, tough decisions, and unforeseen love." -Booklist

Product Details

  • File Size: 390 KB
  • Print Length: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (August 16, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004KA9TTE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,986 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
97 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alison Wonderland, all puns intended March 28, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a light, fun read but it is also thought-provoking, contains astute social comment and is at times brightly satirical. Woven into the tale are finely observed character studies, together with strands of whimsical, laugh-out-loud and very earthy humour. As the personal observations and reflections accumulate, you feel as though you come to know Alison very well.

Using the scenario of a detective's investigations is a clever way of looking at the world to make insightful (quirky) observations on the human condition. You will be treated to a delightful study of British eccentricity, with a darkly sinister undercurrent of corporate dirty tricks and curious fantasy. And there are revelations of quite astonishing honesty.

The characters inhabiting Alison's world are all memorable for their foibles: Mrs Fitzgerald (the detective agency owner), Creepy Clive (Mrs Fitzgerald's brother), Jeff the enigmatic neighbour, Bird, Flower and Taron. Trips out with Taron usually involve great hilarity - watch out for the Tooting Bec Lido afternoon and the night out in a Weymouth club.

There are some delightful little graphic illustrations. These make the reader feel the novel was put together with care and a genuine interest in the reading experience. As soon as I reached the last page, I went straight off and ordered Helen's second novel `Being Light'.

What sort of book is this? The kind where, when you have no choice but to put it down to take a coffee break, answer the door or put the lunch on, that's when you catch yourself smiling.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, fun, well-written book! October 19, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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 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.
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A confusing but fun read August 26, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It took me a page or two to adjust to British colloquialisms, but after that, it became much easier to read. Smith's style is straightforward and honest, with a tone that is almost offhanded even as she describes abandoned babies. The characters were well-developed, and I loved the oddity of Jeff and Alison's nonexistent relationship and how the unevenness of it was dealt with in a matter-of-fact tone, rather than the usual fluff and angst. The development of Taron's personality was enjoyable, as we come to see her as being more than just off-kilter and eccentric.

Smith seemed to be comfortable in her own skin as she writes. Her phrasing and the occasional use of slang made it conversational, which was a relief to read at the end of a long day. The dialogue flowed easily, adding depth to the characters and substance to the story.

Unfortunately, I felt as if too many characters were being explored at once. While it's wonderful for each of them to have their own unique background, a longer piece would make it easier to explore them all. The point of view frequently shifted between characters and an omniscient third party, and I was confused - or at the very least, unsettled - whenever this occurred. The changes are abrupt, making it difficult to follow along and to invest emotionally in the protagonists. Oftentimes, it took a minute or two to realize that Alison was no longer the one speaking. The spirit realm came to act like a deus ex machina, and I still can't quite determine whether or not it's supposed to be real or simply a string of coincidences within the context of the story. All of these things interrupted the process by which I build faith in characters and the world in which they live

Additionally, the sequence of events was a bit hard to understand.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and insightful July 19, 2010
By VickiT
Format:Kindle Edition
Alison Wonderland is a delightfully quirky, character-driven odyssey. Underlying the seamless prose is Smith's wit and insightful observation of human nature. An absolute joy to read.

The literary fiction I've read (or at least attempted to read) in the past has always been hard work. In Alison Wonderland, it's Smith's words that do all the work. All the reader need do is sit back and enjoy the journey.

I urge others, who like me are wary of anything labelled "literary fiction," to take a chance on this book. I promise you won't be disappointed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars The book was terrible.
Actually I wouldn't give it any stars. The book was terrible.
Published 1 month ago by macreads
1.0 out of 5 stars Did not like this book at all
Did not like this book at all, the first book I have read in a long time that I just did not like at all.
Published 1 month ago by Clare Sanders
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was hoping for
This story has no substance. The characters are simply self absorbed druggies with no goals or common sense. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Karin Allen
1.0 out of 5 stars Not even worth the $2 I spent
I only made through 15% of the book (30 pages). As a rule, once I start reading a book, I see it through to the end, but I just couldn't make it through Alison Wonderland. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kam
1.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointing.
If I could give this book zero stars, I would. Rambling, non-sensical dialogue and plot. Gave up on it after reading 1/2 the book. Very disappointing. A waste of time to read it.
Published 4 months ago by Nancy Abbott
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
I can't recall what this book was about
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Snooze
Boring story. The most interesting thing about this book is the title; very clever twist. I wouldn't recommend this book when there are thousands of others that grab you from the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Toni Cairo
2.0 out of 5 stars Off with their heads
Writing 101, all stories should have a beginning, middle and end. Alison like Alice does appear to fall down a rabbit hole but instead of an adventure that weaves in political... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Bonnie Slentz
3.0 out of 5 stars Werid
Okay, I don't remember the making of new animals or the drugs being mentioned in the overview of this book.
Published 7 months ago by Elizabeth E. Morse
2.0 out of 5 stars Alison Wonderland
Not my type of book enjoyment. I bought it cheap and so I didn't lose much. Probably would be enjoyed by another type of person.
Published 7 months ago by Trish
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More About the Author

Sign up for Helen Smith's Book News and receive a free Kindle book:

Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. Her books have reached number one on Amazon's bestseller lists in the US, UK, Canada and Germany. They have been praised in The Times, The Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, Time Out and and appeared on "best of the year" lists in For Books' Sake, The Cult Den, The Independent and the Guardian. Her books have been optioned by the BBC.

Helen Smith traveled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both -- from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant -- before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel. Since then, she has read at literary events and festivals in London and New York and points in between -- including, most recently, a cruise ship en route to California via the Suez Canal. Her work has been read or performed at the National Theatre, The Royal Festival Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, Amnesty International's Headquarters, The Edinburgh Festival and The University of London. She's a Literary Death Match champion and the recipient of an Arts Council of England award.

Helen Smith is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, The Crime Writers' Association and English PEN.

"Smith is gin-and-tonic funny." Booklist

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