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Alison Wonderland by [Smith, Helen]
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Alison Wonderland Kindle Edition

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Length: 201 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Helen Smith's "Alison Wonderland" already has a strange life--what with her psychic postman--but when she becomes a private detective things get even more bizarre when she meets a man who loves a shig, "the fattest, woolliest animal on earth, the product of a union between a pig and a sheep". Being an investigator isn't all glamour and Alison often has to struggle to hold on to the difference between working in a boring job and being a detective working in a boring job. But at least it's not just the expected, run of the mill sleaze, double-crossing and corruption; there's also secret crayfish fishermen, lemon sweets and, of course, the shig. It's this mammoth animal that lies at the heart of Project Brown Dog--an investigation that Alison leads to uncover sinister animal eugenics being orchestrated in the name of commerce by a company in Weymouth.

This is the case that lends Alison Wonderland narrative drive, although Helen Smith's tentative, exploratory style sits uncomfortably within the adventure story set-up. Smith's strength comes to the fore when she's drifting, observing the incidentals of life; "the comforting smells like dog's paws when they wake up from a long sleep" and the rustling of voracious Japanese knotweed as it invades the pavements of Brixton. There's even an intricate Venn diagram sketched to ponder the sagging skin and drooping breasts on show at Tooting Bec Lido. It's this clean, seemingly effortless voice that gives Alison Wonderland an impressive edge and will make her second novel one worth watching out for. --Jane Honey


Only occasionally does a piece of cult fiction leap out and demand immediate cult status. Alison Wonderland is one. This is a deliberately strange book, lurking in an indeterminate no-woman's land between the wave of "girlie diaries" and more conventionally eccentric thrillers. Bridget Jones with a plot, sort of.

Our eponymous heroine is actually called Alison Temple. Divorced from an unfaithful husband, she has signed up as an investigator with the detective agency that uncovered his infidelity, and spends most of her time working in offices, spying on other supposedly unfaithful husbands. The agency is run by a middle-aged woman called Ella Fitzgerald with a distinctly dodgy brother called Clive.

The plot thickens when she is sent on an investigation into the misuse of genetic manipulation to create hybrid animals, and strays into the path of secretive security firms protecting the programs. But this is not as sinister as it sounds. This is, at least in part, a "new girlie" book, remember. Alison is more concerned about the potential - or lack of it - of her relationship with a failed inventor called Jeff, who lives downstairs, writes poetry to her and eats her cereal.

The product of the genetic manipulation is a "shig", a giant cross between a sheep and a pig, designed to provide vast quantities of both wool and meat, and loved deeply, if not wholesomely, by its keeper. Alison's odyssey - all the way to Weymouth and back, picking up a foundling baby named Phoebe en route - is conducted with Taron, who has a "hundred candles" smile and an address book full of club-crazy, druggy friends.

In short, the plot is little more than a loose framework for Smith to give us her astute, pointed by essentially tangential observations on everything from tampon advertisements to Tooting Bec lido. Wry, witty and aggressively self-conscious, Alison Wonderland flirts with topics from heterosexual sex to lesbianism and single parenthood, feminism in a macho culture and male emotional vulnerability. But only fleetingly. A bit, perhaps, like the modern woman.

Smith is at the very least a minor phenomenon. Watch this book blossom in every office handbag. -- Peter Millar--The Times, 1 May 1999

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 611 KB
  • Print Length: 201 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1935597752
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (Aug. 16 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004KA9TTE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #178,590 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9eb381f8) out of 5 stars 280 reviews
101 of 106 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9eb64528) out of 5 stars Alison Wonderland, all puns intended March 28 2010
By Peter Piper - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a light, fun read but it is also thought-provoking, contains astute social comment and is at times brightly satirical. Woven into the tale are finely observed character studies, together with strands of whimsical, laugh-out-loud and very earthy humour. As the personal observations and reflections accumulate, you feel as though you come to know Alison very well.

Using the scenario of a detective's investigations is a clever way of looking at the world to make insightful (quirky) observations on the human condition. You will be treated to a delightful study of British eccentricity, with a darkly sinister undercurrent of corporate dirty tricks and curious fantasy. And there are revelations of quite astonishing honesty.

The characters inhabiting Alison's world are all memorable for their foibles: Mrs Fitzgerald (the detective agency owner), Creepy Clive (Mrs Fitzgerald's brother), Jeff the enigmatic neighbour, Bird, Flower and Taron. Trips out with Taron usually involve great hilarity - watch out for the Tooting Bec Lido afternoon and the night out in a Weymouth club.

There are some delightful little graphic illustrations. These make the reader feel the novel was put together with care and a genuine interest in the reading experience. As soon as I reached the last page, I went straight off and ordered Helen's second novel `Being Light'.

What sort of book is this? The kind where, when you have no choice but to put it down to take a coffee break, answer the door or put the lunch on, that's when you catch yourself smiling.
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9eb64774) out of 5 stars Quirky, fun, well-written book! Oct. 19 2010
By L. Guerrero - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Alison Temple is a detective who works under the name Alison Wonderland - giving this quirky novel its charming name. Far from a traditional mystery, the story is almost more a comedy of errors and coincidences, with a splash of magical realism mixed it. A wonderful cast of fresh, unique and expertly drawn characters drive the slightly disjointed plot and Helen Smith's humorous descriptions - painting the most ordinary of situations in a creative light - provide a great flare of color to the text.

I probably would have enjoyed this book more if Alison's character had been a little less rough around the edges. With careless drug use and somewhat ambivalent feelings for Jeff, the neighbor who is in love with her; I had a hard time relating to her as the protagonist. However, I was drawn into her story and found myself caring a lot about the secondary characters in the book.

Even though I wasn't blown away by this novel, I was really impressed with Helen Smith's writing. She artfully captures simplicity in complex words and has a remarkable talent for humorous observation. Although Alison Wonderland was not my favorite, I will likely read more of Smith's work.
51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9eb64738) out of 5 stars A confusing but fun read Aug. 26 2010
By Alice Y. Yeh - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It took me a page or two to adjust to British colloquialisms, but after that, it became much easier to read. Smith's style is straightforward and honest, with a tone that is almost offhanded even as she describes abandoned babies. The characters were well-developed, and I loved the oddity of Jeff and Alison's nonexistent relationship and how the unevenness of it was dealt with in a matter-of-fact tone, rather than the usual fluff and angst. The development of Taron's personality was enjoyable, as we come to see her as being more than just off-kilter and eccentric.

Smith seemed to be comfortable in her own skin as she writes. Her phrasing and the occasional use of slang made it conversational, which was a relief to read at the end of a long day. The dialogue flowed easily, adding depth to the characters and substance to the story.

Unfortunately, I felt as if too many characters were being explored at once. While it's wonderful for each of them to have their own unique background, a longer piece would make it easier to explore them all. The point of view frequently shifted between characters and an omniscient third party, and I was confused - or at the very least, unsettled - whenever this occurred. The changes are abrupt, making it difficult to follow along and to invest emotionally in the protagonists. Oftentimes, it took a minute or two to realize that Alison was no longer the one speaking. The spirit realm came to act like a deus ex machina, and I still can't quite determine whether or not it's supposed to be real or simply a string of coincidences within the context of the story. All of these things interrupted the process by which I build faith in characters and the world in which they live

Additionally, the sequence of events was a bit hard to understand. It reminded me of Waiting for Godot, where all these things happened, but it was as if nothing had happened at all. With the initial set-up, I was expecting more intricate intrigue than what was presented. The story never actually reached a climax as the lives of the various characters continued onward at the same steady pace in which they had moved throughout the novel. I kept waiting for the turning point that never came.

Overall, this was a fun read. Comedy was mixed in with the randomness, and the combination was sprinkled with comments and the occasional sentence that are both refreshingly truthful and deep. With that being said, a less confusing method of shifting points of view, as well as more varied pacing, would have been appreciated.

Stimulated Outlet Book Reviews
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9eb64a2c) out of 5 stars Witty and insightful July 19 2010
By VickiT - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Alison Wonderland is a delightfully quirky, character-driven odyssey. Underlying the seamless prose is Smith's wit and insightful observation of human nature. An absolute joy to read.

The literary fiction I've read (or at least attempted to read) in the past has always been hard work. In Alison Wonderland, it's Smith's words that do all the work. All the reader need do is sit back and enjoy the journey.

I urge others, who like me are wary of anything labelled "literary fiction," to take a chance on this book. I promise you won't be disappointed.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9eb64f18) out of 5 stars I Tried and Tried and Tried May 14 2013
By E. Burian-Mohr - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is the story of Alison Temple (who goes by the name Alison Wonderland, pun intended) who is depressed... well, disturbed, well... at loose ends after she and her husband split up. So she goes to work for a detective agency where she can watch others who are depressed, well, disturbed, well... at loose ends.

I received this book through Amazon Vine and immediately curled up with it, hoping for a good quirky read. You know those books you can't put down? This, for me, wasn't one of them. I put it down almost immediately. And it disappeared almost immediately. Were the reading gods trying to tell me something?

But I had a commitment. I had asked for the book and I was going to read and review it.

So I searched the house. I looked in other stacks of books, I looked in dark corners and cat beds and bags of books to be taken to the thrift store. It was nowhere. It had truly vanished. So I bought the Kindle edition, still determined to read it and review it.

I told myself that, if I just read one chapter at a sitting, in 38 sittings I would finish it. So I tried and tried some more. But it meanders. And I found most of the characters to be, in addition to meandering, unsympathetic. Do you really want to invite someone over who does lines of coke on your record album covers in your bedroom? Do you want to read a book about someone who passively goes along with this?

Me neither.

It could leave you depressed, well, disturbed, well... at loose ends.