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Greg’s obsession with classmate Alice slowly spirals out of control, as he tries to understand the world of loneliness and fear surrounding him.
ALICE AND THE FLY is the debut novel from Waterstones bookseller, James Rice. Greg is a troubled young man, trying to make sense of the fine line between love and obsession, in a home where he’s ignored and a school where he’s shunned. Struggling with an intense and life-halting phobia of Them hasn’t made things any easier for him, labeled a ‘psycho’ and forced to act as a happy family while everyone crumbles around him. His diary, intended to help him find the words to express his innermost thoughts and fears, has slowly morphed into an open letter to Alice, the beautiful girl who smiled at him once on the bus.
Reading Greg’s diary allows the reader to really get inside his head and see the world through his eyes, making building a close relationship with him extremely easy. While I sometimes didn’t agree with his personal decisions, I understood and truly sympathised with his behaviour due to this intense first-person perspective. My favourite chapters were those written in one continuous prose, no punctuation whatsoever. They were real and completely absorbing, creating such a huge sense of urgency and fear.
To keep the plot pointing in the right direction, there is the occasional police interview with Greg’s friends and family interspersed with his diary entries. While these weren’t always the most informative or interesting, they acted as tiny breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout to keep the intrigue alive. There is a little mystery in this novel, but ultimately I figured out the ending long before I came to it.
The story itself is very engaging, focussing on themes of loneliness in all its manifestations and how we try to hide it from the world. There is a sense of painful truthfulness in Greg’s journal that often made me feel uneasy; he has a sharp mind and a veracious voice. His perceptions of his family, Alice and himself can be difficult to swallow in their child-like honesty, but this only makes the relationship between reader and protagonist stronger. Greg is a real underdog and will quickly get any reader on his side.
An obvious drawback to choosing a journal style is that we don’t have the opportunity to closely experience the other characters. However, I feel that Rice did a great job in representing each character through Greg’s astute observations and more intimately through the transcripts.
While I enjoyed ALICE AND THE FLY very much, I was unhappy with the conclusions drawn about Greg towards the end. It is clear throughout that Greg is struggling with certain aspects of his mental health; he is isolated and withdrawn, has a severe phobia with compulsions and may even be experiencing hallucinations. For me, creating a character like this places the onus on the author to handle him responsibly.
Towards the end, Greg is slapped with a label to explain his actions – a sweeping under the rug of his problems that absolutely does not justify or resolve anything that has happened. It feels like this label is supposed to be a eureka moment for the audience, as though we have been waiting with bated breath to finally hear his diagnosis. This conclusion not only doesn’t fit Greg’s personality and behaviour in the first place, but also serves to perpetuate a multitude of misconceptions around mental health. To jump straight to such a complex, difficult to diagnose and commonly misrepresented disorder feels irresponsible and stigmatises those who may identify with Greg. I would have given 4/5 overall if not for this, as issues such as this are too important for me not to dock a point.
Generally, I would absolutely recommend this book to those who want to read something a little different. Greg is a breath of fresh air and I was privileged to hold his hand through his tragic journey.
I received ALICE AND THE FLY from Hodder and Stoughton in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.