Alison Wonderland – Helen Smith

I just finished reading another book, but I’ll hold off on posting about it until I’m done the whole series. Last Friday I read Alison Wonderland.

Amazon only has the Kindle version which lacks a proper synopsis, so this is from Chapters:

“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 is 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.

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.”

I bought this book because I’ve been trying to branch out (I haven’t read a YA book in two months!) and I hoped it would be interesting. Plus it was like $2.

I find it difficult to judge contemporary or literary adult books, mainly because I don’t have anything to compare it to. I generally read a lot of fantasy or historical fiction (YA and/or adult), so books like this challenge me. I don’t know how to pinpoint which genre it fits in and so I don’t properly know how to criticize it.

It was the type of book where I felt like I was missing something, some part of the plot that I accidentally skimmed over unless it was purposely left out.

I think my biggest source of consternation was the major case that Alison takes on – it was all about genetic engineering/mutation (i.e. the “shig” aka the sheep-pig)  and corruption…nothing that really piques my interest. It definitely wasn’t an ordinary, run-of-the-mill mystery (was it even a mystery? I honestly don’t know). I’m actually not sure what the point was.

I feel like (and this might have to do with the genre) Smith didn’t do a whole lot in the way of setting up the characters. Sure, you get some back-story (i.e. Alison’s husband cheats on her, which leads her to the detective agency), but – while fantasy/historical fiction takes time to build worlds and navigate you through it – literary fiction throws the plot in your face with a smirk and a raised eyebrow, leaving you to wonder if you should accept it all at face value or dig around for something more.

I did like the multiple points of view: Alison’s first-person narrative, plus some third-person scenes from Mrs. Fitzgerald, her crazy brother (who could have been developed a lot more), and the genetic engineering guys.

Also, it doesn’t have any ties to Alice in Wonderland, in case you’re wondering. Which is not entirely unexpected, but it would have almost made more sense if Alison woke up and discovered it was all a dream/the results of a drug-fueled night on the town. Although I suppose she mentions drugs at one point.

As it is…well, I don’t really know what to make of it. It was a fast read (I read the majority of it while babysitting…after my nieces fell asleep, of course!), but it left me feeling conflicted and not entirely satisfied.