did not finish: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

I got not quite halfway through Alice I Have Been. I was looking forward to this book; I liked the sound of it. As it turned out, though, I couldn’t get motivated to continue. I wasn’t hating it, I just wasn’t particularly enjoying it, wasn’t particularly engaged, and I have so many books waiting for my attention that I’m trying to be very open to DNF’s. And I didn’t want to keep reading this one; so I’ve moved on to something that might please me better.

I really had two main complaints.

One, I spoke too soon in last Friday’s book beginning. The child-narrator I said sounded believable quickly took a turn in the other direction. Young Alice seems especially quick to empathize with others in ways that I don’t think are realistic for a child her age. For example: receiving a compliment – realizing the giver of said compliment had made her feel special when she so needed to – wondering if he has anyone in his life to provide the same service to him – giving him an awkward and dishonest compliment – musing that “every person, no matter how old, how matter how odd, needed someone like that [to make them feel special] in their lives.” Does that sound like an 8-year-old to you? It does not, to me. Or again, marveling “at how one man could appear to be so different to so many people.” Or being concerned at whether the musicians at a festival had gotten a break for dinner. While these moments make Alice seem very sweet and thoughtful, they don’t ring true for such a young person. Children, I think, are naturally selfish; empathy is something we learn with age. Especially a privileged child like Alice (who unthinkingly accepts her mother’s convention of calling all maids Mary Anne) would be unlikely, I think, to be concerned about meal breaks for musicians of a lower social class.

Second, the subject matter was starting to wear on me. The thesis of Alice I Have Been up to the place where I quit (page 155, if you’re concerned, of 345 in my edition) seems to be that the child Alice was not only the muse but the beloved of the adult Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. As young as age 8 she adores him, and feels but cannot name a tingling sensation in his presence that later morphs into physical attraction. At 13 she initiates physical touching (totally tame, of course, but definitely inappropriate) and demands that he wait for her until they can be together – this will be when she is 15 and he 35, she thinks (and it appears that this would indeed have been socially acceptable). The short version of which I think is: Dodgson was a pedophile. He went all trembly and ecstatic in the proximity of this 8-year-old child. This was distasteful to me.

A few caveats to this second protest. First, because I didn’t finish this book, I don’t know how things turned out. It may be that Benjamin turns things around and I have a misconception which will never be corrected (because I won’t finish the book). I don’t know. But for my purposes here, I don’t care; I see what I see and I don’t like it. Second, I’m not afraid of reading about pedophiles. I’ve certainly read far worse (graphic, violent, sick) in thrillers, etc. and will do so again. But I didn’t like it here, it wasn’t what I was looking for, and I didn’t feel like reading any further, so I shan’t. That’s all.

A lot of people love this book and perhaps you do (or will) and I wish you all the enjoyment in the world; but in a few days’ investment I was not interested in finishing this book. I’m moving on to something I hope to enjoy more. Come back tomorrow and find out what in the next edition of Teaser Tuesdays. :)

2 Responses

  1. That’s too bad since it sounded promising.

  2. […] was determined to give Melanie Benjamin another try (following Alice I Have Been), and had hopes for this novel of the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I was hoping for something […]

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