Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Book review: Alice and the Fly by James Rice


My edition: hardback (proof), to be published on 15 January 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton, 323 pages.

Description: This is a book about phobias and obsessions, isolation and dark corners. It's about families, friendships, and carefully preserved secrets. But above everything else it's about love. Finding love - in any of its forms - and nurturing it.

Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition's caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I'll flood out all these tears and it'll all be ok and I won't be scared of Them anymore. 


The truth is I can't think of any single traumatic childhood incident to tell her. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories - Herb's death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah - but none of these are what caused the phobia. I've always had it.

It's Them. I'm just scared of Them. It's that simple.

Rating:



There has been a lot of excitement around the upcoming release of Alice and the Fly already and rightfully so as it's a beautiful, heartbreaking, insightful and most of all moving piece of writing. There were more than just strong hits within the pages of last year's Costa Book of the Year-winner The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, which also delves into the struggles of mental illness as seen through the written word of its main character, and I predict this debut by James Rice will do equally well in the book awards coming up in 2015.

Greg is afraid of THEM. The teenager has obsessively taped shut every crack and cranny in his bedroom to ensure that THEM cannot get in. Despite his fear, and his otherwise excessive obsessive behaviour, Greg goes to a normal school and shares classes with kids his own age. They have noticed that he is different though, referring to him as 'psycho', and he doesn't have any friends. Until one day his eyes fall upon Alice. Alice who wears dark sunglasses inside and who, despite coming from The Pit (the bad part of town), is friends with one of the most popular girls in school.

Through a series of diary entries the reader discovers the story of Greg and Alice. It's a for the most part a one-sided relationship carefully written down by Greg, but the chapters are interspersed with transcripts from conversations between Greg's family and classmates with the police. From the very first transcript the reader knows that something terrible has happened, and it's only a matter of time before we find out that someone was hurt - or worse.

Greg's story and his everlasting battle against THEM slowly escalates as his diary entries progress into a jumbled collection of sometimes coherent and sometimes confusing thoughts, with lines between fact and fiction blurring with each passing day. The build up of tension within the novel was subtle but oh so very clever and when about midway through I feared what devastating journey Greg was on, I was already so invested in the hugely compelling tale that I found it impossible to put the book down - even though I knew its ending was going to be a tragic one.

Despite the size of the novel this was a surprisingly quick read; I tried to slow my reading pace down at times, relishing the words and the story they formed, yet I finished it in just a few hours. On the one hand, I was completely gripped by Greg's story and didn't want it to end, but on the other, even spending such a short time with Greg and his family, the inevitable conclusion already completely broke my heart and I can only imagine how much worse the impact would've been had I spent days in his company.

There's been an increase in commercial fiction novels which tackle the previously hushed-topic of mental illness and I'm glad there's now more awareness about this mostly hidden disease. Hopefully it will lead to a better understanding as to what a lot of people are struggling with on a day-to-day basis, even if it isn't obvious on the surface. Greg's story is just one example of how ignoring isolated incidents escalating into recurring symptoms can have dangerous consequences for all involved.

Greg's story was harrowing yet also innocent and it was beautifully crafted by James Rice, who really did the subject matter and his characters proud. It's a stunner of a novel and one I will think about long after turning the final page.

You can pre-order the novel from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk or your own preferred retailer.



Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with him online at:

Twitter: @james_d_rice


Many thanks to the Curtis Brown Book Group for an advance copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're definitely right to point out a shared theme with The Shock of the Fall although I was lucky enough to interview James Rice recently (Interview with James Rice) and it was interesting to hear his take on comparisons.

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