This is a review of the book Alison Wonderland, by Helen Smith.
The novel follows the adventures of Alison Temple, a twenty-something Londoner who joins the detective agency she hired to find out if her husband was cheating on her. (He was.) Tasked with finding out about a secret project near Weymouth, she finds herself involved in a complicated mix of genetic engineering, the magical properties of abandoned babies, and mistaken identity.
While an enjoyable read, the book could have, I felt, been better. Alison’s sections were narrated in first person, so when the POV changed to a different character (eg, the intriguingly-named Ella Fitzgerald, head of the detective agency; her brother Clive; or Mr Bird or Mr Flowers, who were trying to hide the experimentation Alison was investigating) and switched to third person, it was a bit distracting. I felt that if Alison was in first person, then it should have been all her story – and if we were going to use the POVs of other characters then maybe it should all have been in third.
Having said that, the characters were second to none. Alison, her somewhat flaky friend Taron, lovesick neighbour Jeff, Ella, Clive, even the farmer they caught on the hillside with the shig – they were all well developed and with clear motivations. I admit I didn’t necessarily relate to Alison or Taron, possibly because of the casual drug culture they adhered to. Equally, I couldn’t understand how Alison could suddenly be looking after an abandoned baby with no one asking questions about how she got it or where it came from. However, I was willing to overlook that in the interests of poetic licence – it is, after all, a work of fiction.
I was also amused by the tizzy that Messrs Bird and Flowers got themselves into over Alison’s investigations, when really she didn’t have a clue what they were up to. Stealing what they thought was her address book and roughing up someone else’s friends was a nice touch, as was Jeff and his role in the whole affair. Overall, though, it felt like the book promised more than it delivered. There were amusing parts, but as a narrative it felt a little confused and disjointed.
I did enjoy Alison Wonderland. It was fun, lively and entertaining, and the mental image left from Alison and Taron’s visit to the fertility site on the hillside will stay in my mind for a long time. For a debut novel, it ticked a lot of the boxes and certainly made for a good afternoon’s reading. I just felt that it could have been better.