Friday, August 27, 2010

Alison Wonderland (Helen Smith)

Overall: 3.4
  • Plot: 3.5/5
  • Originality: 4/5
  • Language: 4/5
  • Believability: 2/5
Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith

After her husband leaves her for another woman, twentysomething Londoner Alison Temple impulsively applies for a job at the very P.I. firm she hired to trap her philandering ex. She hopes it will be the change of scene she so desperately needs to move on with her shattered life.

At the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation, she spends her days tracking lost objects and her nights shadowing unfaithful husbands. But no matter what the case, none of her clients can compare to the fascinating characters in her personal life. There’s her boss, the estimable and tidy 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. Her relationships with them all become entangled when she joins Taron for a road trip to the seaside and stumbles into a misadventure of epic proportions!

Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, this humorous literary novel introduces a memorable heroine struggling with the everyday complexities of modern life.
Genre: Women's Fiction
Purchase Links:
Kindle US | UK | DE
Paperback US | UK | DE
Other Links:
author website

I came across this novel in one of the forums, and the name had me sold. (Mildly narcissistic, I know. My apologies.) Final breakdown is as follows:

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. It reminded me of Waiting For Godot, where all these things happened, but it was as if nothing had happened at all. With the initial set-up, I was expecting more intricate intrigue than what was presented. The story never actually reached a climax as the lives of the various characters continued onward at the same steady pace in which they had moved throughout the novel. I kept waiting for the turning point that never came.

Overall, this was a fun read. Comedy was mixed in with the randomness, and the combination was sprinkled with comments and the occasional sentence that are both refreshingly truthful and deep. With that being said, a less confusing method of shifting points of view, as well as more varied pacing, would have been appreciated. (Incidentally, the formatting on this e-book was quite good. I was a bit miffed, though, when Denzel Washington's name was misspelled. The man's a movie star, and a quick Google search was all that it would have taken to correct this. Then again, proofreading errors will occasionally get the best of us, and it was unfortunate that this one happened to stand out.)

Edit: The misspelling of Denzel Washington's name has since been fixed. Please disregard that particular comment.


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