Van has finished reading…Alice And The Fly by James Rice

7 Jan

I read a book once in which the author had systematically bracketed the use of the word and. (and). There was something about trains and a tunnel and I’ve a feeling it might have been written by Susan Sontag. I guess that’s not a good advert from me, so I apologise if it’s not Susan Sontag’s work. In any case it possibly says more to my powers as a reader. What this story did give me is the (and) test. It applies when you get a book with some kind of punctuational or typographical quirk. Why is it there? What does it add? Is it the only thing I’m going to remember?
In Alice And The Fly, it’s Them. It jumps out at you. You can’t not notice it. But it’s very effective and cleverly done. When we think about heights or clowns or snakes or whatever it is that gives us the heebie-jeebies I think we tend to over-egg things a little. As humans it suits our desire to be vulnerable, though only a little vulnerable, in the eyes of others. There are things I don’t like, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have a phobia about them. Them is the difference, that feeling it gives you. You can’t ignore it, no matter how much you want to. It’s insidious and threatening all at once though it’s just four little letters that are darker than the others. It’s irrational.
It’s a very nice touch in what is a very good book. More to the point, it would read very differently without it.

I guess the standard position will be that Greg is an unreliable narrator, but I wonder how accurate that assumption is. As a reader you’ll recognise that sense of things-not-quite-being-what-they-seem. You’ll be required to work out what’s ‘really’ going on, but does that make Greg unreliable? Is he misleading us wilfully? As unreliable characters go I’d say Greg’s mum (who is presented quite expertly) is nearer the mark. If it were my choice, I’d say rather that Greg is a Compromised Narrator. It’s mostly Greg’s story that we hear in Greg’s own words, though interposed there is a more…reliable…window on events. Very early on you get that sense that something terrible is going to happen and by the end I found myself hoping for reprieve.

James Rice raises an eyebrow at a number of things in this book, but the thing that lingered with me was one word: understanding. As writers (and I’m talking generally here) we’re expected to be good at it. We’re expected to be able to communicate our thoughts and our feelings clearly. In this book James Rice gives us a character who, if you put it all together, probably doesn’t have enough actual dialogue to fill one whole page. Still he speaks to us. He speaks to us through what he writes and as readers we can bridge the gap. We can do what the other characters in the story, for whatever reason, can’t. We can understand. In our own lives, every day, how often that transaction fails. We can all feel for Greg. We all have so much to say, yet sometimes lack the words or the breath or the means or the courage to say them.

I suspect you’ll hear a lot about this book in the coming months. Trust the hype. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

PS: I must offer thanks to The Curtis Brown Book Group (@CBBookGroup) for sending me a copy over Christmas. For this I am in your debt.


2 Responses to “Van has finished reading…Alice And The Fly by James Rice”


  1. The Inaugural Curtis Brown Book Group – my first six months as a #CBBookGroupie | vanisreading - 01/07/2015

    […] Alice And The Fly by James Rice […]

  2. The #CBBookGroupie playlist | vanisreading - 09/02/2016

    […] Theme, Alice And the Fly by James […]

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