November 14, 2011

Review: (re)Visions: Alice, an anthology

Authors: Kaye Chazan, Amanda Ching, Hilary Thomas, C.A. Young
Editor: Kate Sullivan
Title: (re)Visions: Alice
ISBN: 9781936460069
Publisher: Candlemark and Gleam (2011)
Disclaimer: Copy received for review purposes.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1865, an English author and scholar with an abiding interest in mathematics and logic published a tale originally told for the amusement of a friend's young daughter, Alice.
The resulting novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was largely ignored at first, but then rapidly rose to fame, with such prominent admirers as Queen Victoria and Oscar Wilde; its nonsensical language and endearing characters have made it beloved of generations of children and adults alike, and the escapades of young Alice have inspired writers the world over. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has never gone out of print.
With such universal appeal, it's no wonder that the quasi-logical tricks and banter of Wonderland have cast a long shadow on modern fantasy. Echoes of the Queen, the Cat, and others can be found in tales old and new, and the idea of falling into a strange, bewildering world is one of the favorite tropes used by authors of the fantastic.
The (re)Visions series seeks to bring classic works of speculative fiction back into the modern consciousness, examining how tendrils of the fantastic spiral through all that we think and do, even decades after a work was penned. First, read Lewis Carroll's (extremely) original work; then, let your mind wander through the gardens and passages of Wonderland, guided by four very different modern authors.
And don't forget your flamingo.“ GoodReads’ blurb

Fans of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will rave about this one... and even those who never got the hang of the original will enjoy the new takes on the story! I know because I had a lot of expectations going into (re)Visions: Alice, and every single one of them was surpassed.

That’s coming from someone whose relationship with the classic is complicated. But let’s take a closer look at this book.

The compilation offers the Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, plus four short stories of four very talented authors, who each twist and spin the weirdness of Wonderland in their own way. I have to say that this was the first time I read Lewis Carroll’s tale as it was meant to be  of course, I’d gone through it before, probably a bit too early to truly enjoy it, but it was the Spanish translation. I didn’t get half the story, and that’s why I said my relationship with Alice is complicated: I’d not learn to appreciate it until much later, when we went over it in a literary translation class, with a great professor  who took the time to explain the symbolism and to make sense of things. And that was the French version. So, now I came back to English and I’ve to say that I loved this chance: understanding now what it was all about and experiencing the language almost as if it were another game of Alice’s Wonderland was amazing! I’m really glad that it’s included in the anthology.

The first story afterwards, What Aelister Found Here, by Kaye Chazan, now... beyond amazing, it was a bomb! I whish I could share my thoughts on it without spoiling the whole thing. Let’s just say that the author brings Wonderland to us, rather than the other way around, and that the choice of setting and historical background couldn’t be better – you’ll see the play on words as soon as the events start unfolding in Victorian London. It’s true that the “other shoe” will truly drop only if you’re up to date on your wizarding history, but... Well. The thing is that I was, that I knew who Aelister turned out to be the moment he said his given name at the end, I knew what he’d do in the future and... Wow. Still, even if all that says nothing to you, the style itself, in present, with a fourth wall that not always exists, and the mystery of who – and what – each character is keeps the reader immersed on the text.

The second story’s called House of Cards, by Amanda Ching, and, again, a detailed explanation of what worked to well would spoil the game for you. It’s a narration that feels almost surrealist, as it goes from one place to another, and then to another character... Except, as it progresses, we begin to understand the jumps that aren’t quite jumps. Or at least, not the kind we thought them to be. Suddenly, in the end, every piece falls in place, so neatly that you can almost hear them going ‘click’ in your head, and Alice and her trip to Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts, Cheshire, Duchess... it all takes a whole new depth to the old meaning.

Then, we have Knave, by Hilary Thomas, which is, perhaps, the tale that felt further from Carroll, in a style so different that comparing the two would have felt odd, and yet, it might have been my favorite version of them all. The story follows Jack Knave, some sort of head of security or detective working for the Queen... and Wonderland is up to its neck in a turf war. Yes, there’s gangsters and guns and noir. No, you’d not have imagine Alice to be quite like this. Yes, I loved every minute of it, from the original setting to the unique voice of Jack, and his competence tinged with just a bit of corruption in a world that’s made of shades of grey.

Last story is The World in a Thimble, by C.A. Young, and I’ll be damned if first appearance of Alice didn’t freak me out. The main character, luckily for me, is not Alice but Toby, a guy who’s not very good at dealing with problems or standing up for himself. We get to see how he gets plunged in Wonderland and learns to find himself – the only other choice is to be completely lost forever! This story touches some very interesting aspects of having your own principles and beliefs, of the power of imagination and dream alike, and I found it to carry a bright message amidst Toby’s tension.

All in all, as you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology. Fresh, original, hooking... I hope that now that we’ve gone a bit over all the stories included, you understand why I think that you’ll like it. Certainly, it’s a recommended read for all except those with a deathly aversion to short stories. And I don’t know who’d have one of those...


  1. I just downloaded this after reading your review. I didn't realize that it was 4 short stories with different twists. I love the idea of this.

    And that's really interesting how you went through the story in Spanish and French. Do you think there is a big difference in the story, depending on translation? Or different languages, I guess?

  2. Hi Christy! I'm sure you'll enjoy this one, please let me know your thoughts as you go!

    Ohhh... Okay, time to share a little secret: in my non-virtual life, I happen to be a translator. A literary one, to be exact. So, getting me started on the topic can be a bit dangerous - but I'll try to keep it brief.

    Or at least, not to ramble too much.

    The thing is that a translation will, on most instances, change the nature of the text. If it's good, it'll be nearly unnoticeable - but it doesn't depend just on the translator being good, it also depends on the text we're working on. Cultural references are the most obvious example: how to get the readers into a society that is essentially different from their own. These differences are present even when countries are similar - think about the stereotypes, the popular idols, current street fashion...

    Alice, though, faced two problems that were a bit more serious. On the one hand, the use of language itself to draw the painting of Wonderland. If you pay attention, they way the characters address each other says a lot about them and their relationship. There's plenty of double entendres and figurative language. And none of those images works outside English - you have to find a way to adapt the message without mangling the style.

    And that brings out to the other problem: it's an old book. Back then, criteria of what a good translation was was different from today - for example, it was okay to change the text in order to adapt it to your native tongue. All names were to be translated. Language was simplified into the standard, so all dialects and most quirks, all politeness and status clues? It disappears. And I think Alice's Adventures in Wonderland did suffer a lot from it.

    Nowadays, we tend to respect the original much more, but the language part is still hard. A modern example of a translating nightmare would be Terry Pratchett - so much of his meaning lies in plays of words, that something is bound to get lost!

    Okay, Professor mode off. Sorry I got so carried away... Not every day I find a willing audience that even asked for the info in the first place!

    Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!


  3. Wow this one sounds phenominal! I love reading short stories so I'll be sure to try this one. I love Alice in Wonderland so reading different perspectives on it sounds like a lot of fun! I'm so glad you enjoyed this one and thank you for the great review :)


  4. I just think it's so interesting how certain things can have such different meanings, depending on language and culture. And I just wonder sometimes how much gets lost in translation. Looking at a certain piece of work, like Alice, in different languages would be so cool. I'd love to be able to do that. Of course, I'd need to learn other languages first. lol

  5. @Jaskirat: Hi! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed the review, and I'm sure you'll just love this one - more so if you do like Alice! I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on it, if you try it out.

    @Christy: lol Yeah, learning other languages is part of the deal. Still, it sure is an interesting job!

  6. Thank you so much for explaining this book. I've seen it, and I was intrigued by it since I'm a fan of Lewis Carroll, but I didn't quite "get" it. Now I understand and really want to read it. I love themed anthologies.

  7. Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I'm so glad to have helped you decide about this book! It really was great, and I hope you'll enjoy it. Do let me know your thoughts! ;)