For those of you who loved Alice in Wonderland -- no, the real one, not the Disney version -- Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been is a fascinating novelization of the story behind the children's classic -- the story of Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll, and Alice Liddell, the privileged daughter of the Dean of the Oxford college where Dodgson was a don.
Alice and her two sisters often went on outings (properly chaperoned) with Dodgson, who was always happy to entertain the children with a story. It was on one of these outings that he told the story that became the children's classic.
But there's a good deal more to Alice's story. Dodgson was a keen amateur photographer in the early days of photography and the Liddell girls were among his subjects. And then there's the intriguing photograph of seven year old Alice as a gypsy girl -- the knowing gaze and the provocative pose are enough to set a novelist's antennae quivering. Couple that with the fact that there seems to have been an estrangement of sorts between the Liddells and Dodgson when Alice was eleven, throw in a rumored romance between the grown-up Alice and one of Queen Victoria's sons, and it's a story begging to be written.
Benjamin traces Alice's life into her old age, neatly combining fact and speculation. (She is scrupulous in pointing out which is which in an equally interesting Reader's Guide.)
I always read the acknowledgements too, and somehow I wasn't surprised when Benjamin mentioned Kate Miciak -- "the most enthusiastic, understanding, terrifyingly smart editor ever" -- to which I say Amen. (Kate was my editor for all my books so far and she is, indeed, all of those things.)
Human frailties, the beautiful world of Oxford, family intrigue, and an ambiguous relationship explored. This book hit the sweet spot for me.