The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait

The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait

*I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher*

9781782396826

Title: The Looking Glass House
Author: Vanessa Tait
Publisher: Corvus
Category: Fiction
Pages: 304
Available formats: Print
Publication Date: 29/7/15
RRP: AU$27.99
Synopsis: What happened before Alice fell down the rabbit hole?

Oxford,1862. As Mary Prickett takes up her post as governess to the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, she is thrust into a strange new world. Mary is poor and plain and desperate for change but the little girls in her care see and understand far more than their naive new teacher. And there is another problem: Mary does not like children, especially the precocious Alice Liddell.

When Mary meets Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church mathematics tutor, at a party at the Deanery, she wonders if he may be the person to transform her life. Flattered by his attentions, Mary begins to believe that she could be more than just an overlooked, dowdy governess.

One sunny day, as Mary chaperones the Liddells on a punting trip, Mr. Dodgson tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But Mary is determined to become Mr. Dodgson’s muse ­ and will turn all the lives around her topsy-turvy in pursuit of her obsession.

~*~

The Looking Glass House, written by Alice Liddell’s great-granddaughter Vanessa Tait, invites readers into the world behind the very first children’s book ever written that wasn’t didactic or moralistic. So when I received this book to review from Allen and Unwin, it was one that I saved for last, because the premise sounded so intriguing, and it was.
The story focuses the relationship Mary Prickett, governess to Alice and her sisters, Lorina and Edith, believes she is cultivating with the maths tutor of Christ Church College of Oxford University, Charles Dodgson, known better to the world as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. She is the kind of anti-hero some novels have, not quite evil but not quite likeable at times. I could not make up my mind about her, but found some things she did rather dislikeable, though there were times when the reader could feel some sympathy for her.
The story is based on family tales and diaries and letters handed down to Vanessa over the years from Alice to her son Caryl to Vanessa and her family. This gives it an authenticity that another author perhaps would find hard to come by, and would have to fictionalise many things. Though Tait fictionalised her family story, as she tells us in a note at the start, it makes wonderful attempts to fill in the gaps that are said to be there as to why Charles Dodgson’s friendship with Alice Liddell ended so abruptly. When I learnt about this in a Children’s Literature class, it stayed with me and I have wanted to know more about it ever since. Reading The Looking Glass House gave me an insight into this world, and what the cause for the end of the friendship may have been.
It was an intriguing read, and one that I hope to go back to at some stage.

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The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

I received a copy of this from the publisher for reviewing purposes

Title: The Book of Speculation
Author: Erika Swyler
Publisher: Corvus
Category: Fiction
Pages: 352
Available formats: Print and eBook
Publication Date: 29/7/15
RRP: AU$29.99

9781782397632

Synopsis from the Publisher: A sweeping and captivating debut novel about a young librarian who is sent a mysterious old book, inscribed with his grandmother’s name. What is the book’s connection to his family?
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home; a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother.
Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand. The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler’s gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

~*~
The Book of Speculation is a mysterious book, one that takes the reader on an unexpected journey. When Simon embarks on his journey to discover why the women in his family have all drowned on the same date, the twenty-fourth of July. With the return of his sister, Enola, so close to this date, he is determined to save her from the fate that took their mother from them. The mystery intensifies when a second-hand bookseller sends him a book that holds the name of their grandmother, Verona Bonn.
Swyler takes the reader on a journey through the present – told from Simon’s point of view, and alternates this with chapters told in third person, set in the past that set up the curse and it’s impact on the family through Evangeline, Amos and the travelling show they read tarot cards for. There is a mystery and intrigue surrounding these cards, which is woven throughout the secondary storyline that seeps into Simon’s story. Yet at first, it is not evident what this third person, historically based narrative means to the main plot. It slowly unfolds to reveal what the reader needs to know, to connect it to the ongoing events of Simon and Enola’s lives. In doing it in this way, Swyler’s mystery has the effect of wanting to read on, to find out about Amos the Wild Boy, Evangeline and the people they travel with, and what is to become of all the characters.
It is this structure that gives the overall novel the mysterious air that a good mystery of any kind should have. The answers Simon seeks do not lie in the books he is sent. Yet the legacy of Madame Ryhzkova and what she taught Amos, who in turn, taught Evangeline how to read the cards, ebbs and flows like the waters that have taken the lives of Simon and Enola’s mother, and those who came before her. Yet the father of Simon’s girlfriend, Alice, is hiding a secret that will shake Simon’s world and cause a rift between him and Alice’s family, all while Simon fights to save his sister, and fights to save his house.
The climax is one I did not want to pause in at all, to keep reading to see if the curse is broken and how, to find out what happens to Simon and Enola following the destruction of their childhood home. The intensity of this novel had me reading whenever I could, sometimes a few pages, sometimes a few chapters. The ending tied up what readers yearn to find out yet opened the door to further mystery and speculation – a nicely written book with an ending that suited it perfectly.