A free copy of this book was received from Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
If you enjoyed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, chances are you’ll get a kick out of Insanity.
Alice Pleasance Wonder is a patient at Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum in Oxford, where she’s been imprisoned for two years after causing the deaths of her boyfriend and all their classmates. Shock therapy and heavy doses of medication have caused Alice to forget her past, but she’s been told that as a child she got lost one afternoon and later returned insisting she’d been in the Wonderland from Lewis Carroll’s storybooks. The only other things Alice knows about herself are that she’s terrified of mirrors, loves her potted Tiger Lily, and occasionally suffers from hallucinations of talking flowers and creepy white rabbits. She longs to recover her memories and is given a chance to do so by an unlikely source: one of her fellow inmates.
Professor Carter Pillar is a wily, hookah-smoking psychopath who has murdered multiple people, bears a resemblance to the riddle-spouting caterpillar in Lewis’ stories, and has a knack for slipping in and out of the asylum at will. “The Pillar,” as he’s known, believes Alice is THE Alice and approaches her with a bargain:
“I can make you remember amazing things[…]. Like who the Red Queen really is. Why she chopped off heads. Who the Rabbit really was. Where the real rabbit hole exists. What a raven and a writing desk really have in common. Why Lewis Carroll wrote this book[…]. Basically, I can tell you who you really are.”
In exchange for this information, The Pillar demands Alice’s help in tracking down and stopping another serial killer: The Cheshire Cat. Together, Alice and The Pillar spend their nights locked in the asylum and their days investigating the Cheshire’s murders.
At first, the hunt for the Cheshire is exciting. The cat is aware that the two are on his tail (ha – get it?) and toys with them, leaving puzzles and riddles for Alice and The Pillar to solve. Through these riddles the readers learn fascinating facts about Lewis Carroll and the inspirations for his Alice stories, such as how the Cheshire Cat got his name. There are encounters with reincarnations of the White Queen, the Duchess, and the Reds from the stories, and there are fun references to a “raven-colored” writing desk, Carrollian words like “brillig” and “frabjous,” and interesting logic puzzles such as the ones Carroll included in his literary works.
These nods to Carroll and the fun insight into his stories were what I enjoyed most about Insanity. Unfortunately, the puzzles taper off as the story progresses, and the characters I really wanted to meet – the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, Tweedle Dee and Dum, etc. – never made an appearance.
Characterization and tight plotting fell by the wayside about halfway into the book, replaced by seemingly random plot points and appearances by characters who had no good reason to be in the scene other than to serve as a convenience or, in some cases, an inconvenience. The second half of the book just felt sloppy. There were lots of spelling and grammar mistakes, and the characters’ motivations and actions didn’t seem to be as firmly grounded as in the beginning. There was so much focus on silliness and madness – obtaining a useless, unnecessary Certificate of Insanity, making goofy proclamations to crowds of people, gallivanting around being mad and merry – that the book felt fluffy and lost a lot of the appeal and tension that it had at the start.
This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate whimsy and silliness. Whenever Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland are involved, you know there’s going to be a hearty dose of nonsense; after all, Carroll is the man who wrote passages like:
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Still, nonsense needs to be backed up by believable characters and a strong storyline, which were missing towards the end of Insanity.
Although the second half of Insanity may not have lived up to my expectations, the first half was good enough that I’m willing to give the sequel, Figment, a shot. The references to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass definitely piqued my interest, and I’m eager to see what’s next for Alice Wonder.
To wrap up this review, I’ll leave you with the parting gift of a couple of great quotes from the book:
“So how is [this date] going to be?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean who’s going to pay? English way, we split the check. American way, I pay the check. French way, probably you pay the check. Carrollian way, we eat mushrooms and drink tea in a house we break into.”
“Let go of me,” I say as a I pull away.
“Wow, you’re good at squeezing yourself away from a man’s arms,” he looks admirably at his empty embrace.
“You haven’t seen me with a straight jacket.”
See why I liked this book? 🙂