Thursday, 8 March 2012

Review: Putting Alice Back Together by Carol Marinelli

Huge thanks to Mira books for sending me a copy to review.
There's only so much sex, valium and red wine you can take to paper over the cracks... 

Alice Lydia Jameson is the friend you wish you had. The girl who makes a party more fun, pulls a funny face to make you feel better, drinks wine out of a mug and makes you laugh while you're crying over an ex. Alice is totally happy, everything is amazing, and there is nothing at all to worry about... except, well: Her job was really great 10 years ago; The sexiest guy alive doesn't want her...because he's gay; Her credit card bills are mounting up... But maybe the biggest problem for Alice is that she has a secret. A secret so big she can't tell anyone...but how do you keep a secret like that when everything is starting to fall apart? And once it's out there, how do you ever begin to put yourself back together again?

This one was a bit mixed for me – for starters it isn’t my usual book fare but I was curious by the blurb so I wanted to give it a go. However the blurb really doesn’t seem to match the books in some areas at all.

For starters Alice really isn’t the friend I wish I had, at no point does she ever come across as the life of the party or a fun person to be around- we never get to see that side of her except for one brief scene at the beginning. We see the drinking and the valium, but none of the exuberant outgoing person I was expecting from the blurb.

In fact the first two thirds were a bit like watching a car crash as Alice slowly self-destructs. It wasn’t pleasant or particularly enjoyable, but it was necessary to reach the point where we meet the real Alice.

However, once we start to get to the real Alice, not the one she hides behind, it’s a fascinating and compelling story. I was just frustrated that it took so long to reach that point. I think that once we do reach this though it almost all becomes worth-while because all the puzzle pieces start to slot together and make sense and we see her become a real whole person again, which I loved. I just wish that it hadn’t taken so long for her to self-destruct and we could have seen more of the recovery process as opposed to more of the car crash.

It was a very interesting style to pick, with both the present day Alice and the younger Alice’s stories being told at the same time. It was a touch confusing at the start as there is no real indication of whose chapter it is going in, but as a pattern and rhythm emerged I found it to be a really engaging way of storytelling to have both stories unravelling and merging together as I progressed. There were a few problems with tenses at some moments, but on the whole the writing is strong, the characters clear and as I said, once we reach the emerging Alice it became a truly engaging and beautiful story.

As a début novel it’s strong, but not entirely my cup of tea, however the strength of the last third of the novel was enough to swing my perspective round and make me curious to read what Ms Marinelli writes next. I would recommend it as a very definite page turner for anyone who likes to escape into another’s life without any fantasy elements. An interesting début that’s well worth a read.

To celebrate the release Ms Marinelli was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and her writing!
“You speak in the acknowledgements about how long Alice took you to write and you came back to her on several occasions, what was the hardest part of writing her story for you?”

I kept leaving it because I didn’t think I should invest the time in it and it just seemed too mad and too hard, but my friends and my editor would keep telling me to keep going.

“It's been said that the first novel often has the most pieces of the author in it, was that true for you when writing Alice, and did you find the experience cathartic?”

I don’t really find writing cathartic, I find it stressful but necessary – as in, I can’t go more than a couple of days without writing something. I have written a lot of shorter novels so I guess there are pieces of me everywhere.

“What has been the most exciting part of the writing and publishing process?

The thing I find most exciting is when I go to add another layer to the story and find out that I have set up for it already. As if my brain knew before I did, what I was going to do - I just hadn’t worked it out. I love typing “the end”. I change font and really take a moment.

“Do you have any habits or rituals that stimulate you to write?” 

 It depends - I can write with the TV on, I can write on a train but when I have most of the story down and try to pull it together it’s silence and candles and crystals and reading inspiring books. Though I am having to revise the candles as my cat’s tail caught fire the day before the other day J (he’s okay, just hair, not skin)

“And finally what are you working on at the moment?

NOTHING!!  I sent the follow up to Alice into my editor yesterday – so I should be biting my nails but I am going to tidy my office and catch up with life but I’ll probably be back to it by Monday.

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