Kissing Alice by Jacqueline Yallop

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Kissing Alice by Jacqueline Yallop

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Katie Pullen
Reviewed by Katie Pullen
Summary: A disturbing and often confusing story of the acutely dysfunctional Craythorne family, of the early twentieth century, bound together and all deeply affected by the central character Alice. Well written but let down by sketchy characterisation and plot focus.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 304 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1848870345

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Arthur Claythorne, a decorator by trade finds himself out of work and back home in Plymouth as the First World War begins, along with a stolen copy of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, a book full of powerful imagery. After being injured in the war Arthur returns home to his wife Queenie May and two daughters, Florrie and Alice, a changed man, deeply affected by his experiences in the trenches and desperate to find religion. Despite Florrie's interest in following her father into Catholicism, it is Alice who suddenly finds herself the object of her father's unusual and inappropriate attention.

When Arthur dies, the rivalry between Alice and Florrie continues as Florrie gets married to Eddie, a man Alice appears to love too, and soon Alice leaves the family unit, returning sporadically as the decades pass and family members die. But, like Blake's book, Alice touches each member of her family in a unique way, leaving a lasting and uncomfortable impression on most of them, filled with confusing emotions.

I'd read many excellent reviews of Kissing Alice so thought it sounded like an impressive debut, and had high hopes as I started to read, but soon found myself disappointed.

The novel starts off well and I was impressed by Yallop's descriptive writing, but immediately frustrated by her eagerness to move events onwards by leaping forward in time again and again. This made me feel that I never really had a chance to get to know any of the characters properly, as their thoughts and feelings are left behind as time skips on.

I also found it hard to like any of the main characters, due to Yallop's preference to describe settings and surroundings. Alice in particular is a confusing character, who perhaps doesn't even know herself, completely let down by her immediate family and quite alone in the world. I didn't feel sorry for her though as I expected her to at least wonder whether her relationship with her father was right but she didn't.

Alice's relationship with her father is one of the most disturbing things I have read of late. It is clear that it is of a sexual nature, although Yallop is careful not to be completely explicit about this. What threw me completely is that Alice's mother and her sister are completely aware of this disturbing relationship which affects Alice's attitude towards men and sex forever, yet don't seem to question it, making them somewhat complicit. I had hoped someone would step in to stop it, or at least help Alice to understand its inappropriateness but no one does.

I also found the use of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, which is present throughout the novel in various states, a rather unusual and at times confusing motif. Yallop barely describes the images or poems contained in the book, so I found it hard to imagine the massive impact it has on each member of the Claythorne family. Part of me wonders if it is meant to represent Alice in some way, as the book is destroyed and put back together.

As for a plot, well I wasn't sure where the book was going and to be honest, if I wasn't reviewing this book I would have given up after about fifty pages, as I found the skimming of time and what appear to be important events threw me out of the narrative just too much. I also found it a distinctly uncomfortable read, particularly with Alice's sexual experiences, the dysfunctional nature of the Claythornes and a host of odd characters that don't really seem to be able to find their place in the world.

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop.

Further Reading Suggestion: For a more satisfying story based around a dysfunctional family try The Gathering by Anne Enright or Floundering by Romy Ash.

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