Book Review: The Alice Behind Wonderland by Simon Winchester

I re-read Alice in Wonderland not too long ago, and I was charmed all over again by the story. Since I enjoy biographies, and I generally like Simon Winchester’s writing, this book seemed right up my children’s-literature-loving alley.

The Alice Behind WonderlandThe Alice Behind Wonderland by Simon Winchester

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yet, for most, even after the book is finally shut and put back, the memory of the image proves hauntingly and lingeringly distracting, and for a long while.

Winchester begins this slim volume with a description of a photograph Charles Dodgson (better known today as Lewis Carroll) took of then-six-year-old Alice Liddell, after a discussion of how the photo ended up in a library at Princeton. This first chapter is a good indication of what is to come: a curiously circuitous look at the life of Dodgson and the creation of both Lewis Carroll and his famous book, the girl who inspired it, and quite a bit about the history of photography.

While I have enjoyed Winchester’s writing in the past (I read The Map that Changed the World a couple of years ago), I don’t think this is his best. It just meanders a bit too much, the tone even wavering from conversational to a touch too formal. And there are a couple of oddly repetitious bits; the explanation that Alice’s sister, Lorina, was named after their mother and nicknamed Ina appears at least twice, for example.

It is a pleasant read, and a relatively quick one, full of bits of trivia about both Dodgson and his social world. But rather than bringing the reader into Dodgson’s world, let alone that of the girl in the title, Winchester’s prose maintains the distance between then and now.

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