Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith

20th Sep 2011


Firstly, don’t go looking down any rabbit holes. Alison of a title is a little-bit-lost divorcee, working for the PI agency that discovered her ex-husband’s infidelity, somehow managing to live alone in London in her late twenties; part of that set of bright young things that can afford to go clubbing three times a week as a result of charging twenty-five pounds an hour for anything at all resembling work.

Her agency somehow gets involved in an animal rights investigation, and Alison becomes a target for some shady characters’ interests. Alison’s friend/personal witch/dealer Taron’s address book is stolen and her friends, including her lovelorn neighbour Jeff, become targets for assault.

The two women decide that the best course of action is to take to the seaside to find a lost baby that Taron’s mother can use as an apprentice, as people who don’t know their own names are the most powerful. Along the way they meet a crowd of Buddhist monks drumming for peace, a man who has sex with shiggs (exactly what it sounds like), and a physic postman.

The plot, so far as there is one, makes absolutely no sense at all, and after I’d stopped looking for logic and instead let the weird world wash over me I enjoyed the book a lot more. This is one you have to stick with.

The writing is hit-and-miss, but where it hits, it’s a bullseye. Laugh out loud moments are mixed with questionable plot turns and much channelling of Reeves and Mortimer, but without the slapstick.

Some of the ideas are brilliantly terrifying, the thought of businesses labelling you a dangerous subversive because you once signed a petition in BodyShop, and the SWP tables actually being right wing spies looking for left-leaners to black list are so chilling, especially in this day and age.

However, the constant changing of first to third person, insertions of characters apparently of no relevance to the story, and dialogue that feels staged spoiled the wit and quirkiness of the rest of the writing.

The characters of Alison herself is again so random as to be unfathomable; I didn’t know whether to hate her for being so up her own arse, or love her quirky nature. Taron, the side kick, rescues the book. She is hilarious, and I would love to see more of her.

The whole set up to the book felt like the beginning of a series, as opposed to a stand alone literary novel, and as series it might work. As it is, this is a Marmite-like book that I’d be very wary about recommending to all. If, however, you love your prose that has no point, but is very funny, and current, I’d give this one a go.

Published last month, you can buy it in paperback for £6.99, or for Kindle for £1.99.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended for: Fans of Scarlett Thomas or possibly Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

Other recommended reading: Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt and Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson.

Jess Haigh