Title: Alice and the Fly
Author: James Rice
Original Publication: January 2015 (Hardback) / August 2015 (Paperback)
Publisher: Hodder & Stouhgton
Opening line: “The bus was late tonight.”
Closing line: “We still didn’t know what direction we were supposed to be heading in, but for some reason it didn’t seem to matter any more.”
Southport-based writer James Rice’s debut ‘Alice and the Fly’ is an incredibly impressive debut from an exciting new talent. The novel’s blurb is deliberately vague and what initially drew me to the novel in the first place was three simple sentences printed on the back cover:
“It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.”
I was intrigued to discover who or what ‘Them’ was. Although the answer to that question remains far from clear, this uncertainty was undoubtedly part of the point of the novel. The main protagonist is a teenager called Greg: a teen who is both socially awkward and incredibly lonely (not an uncommon combination!). Rice does an excellent job of portraying Greg’s troubled inner psyche and creates a believably humane and rational character – despite his status of social oddity/freak among the other characters.
The plot of this text is not fantastical (as perhaps is suggested by the hardback’s original artwork) but is very much grounded in reality. Written in an almost diary-like format from (mostly) Greg’s perspective, Rice shows the complexities of family life and the human mind with ease and clarity. Greg’s family may seem like a typical family from the outside, but Rice takes us behind closed doors, detailing the largely dysfunctional lives of Greg, his sister and his parents. It seems that several side stories are trying to emerge from the text, but they are only touched on briefly and only in their relation to Greg. I like this in a book as it allows to imagine and consider the lives of the other characters for yourself and lets you form your own opinions and ideas about them. Ultimately, I think this engages you more with the story by making you think more deeply about the situations and characters that are being presented.
Greg is very much the central focus of the novel, with his phobia of ‘Them’ and his obsession with ‘Alice’ driving much of the action. It is a text that deals with some fairly heavy issues, as Rice discusses mental illness, social isolation, bullying, dysfunctional home lives and crippling phobias with brazen honesty. In spite of this, Greg’s voice gives the novel a light feel and it is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking.
I would recommend this book to both adults & teens, as the multi-layered novel has something for everyone. Rice’s writing and insight really make the characters come to life and despite Greg’s unreliability as a narrator, it is a story that feels very real and very human. A compelling and unusual read, ‘Alice and the Fly’ is a breathtaking debut from a writer with some very serious talent indeed!
Some Questions To Think About After Reading The Book:
- What difference (if any) would it have made if Greg had been a female character?
- Who, if anyone, should take responsibility in the novel?
- Do you think Miss Hayes helps or hinders Greg?
- Who do you sympathise the most with in the novel?
- Who, or what, do you think Them are?