Ask Alice by D J Taylor
|Ask Alice by D J Taylor|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Louise Laurie|
|Summary: American Alice Keach has done very well for herself in life. She's rich, gifted, beautiful and is the toast of 1930s London society - until her past catches up with her.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: April 2010|
The central character Alice, has had a humble start in life but ... the silence of the Kansas flat ... and the distant murmur of the freight trains is not for her. She dreams of the bright lights of the big cities and although she is naive and unworldly, fancies herself as an actress. Painful and difficult decisions are made as she reaches for her goal. Her talent and resourcefulness see her through; give her a modest roof above her head in this precarious profession.
The men in her personal life are few and far between. They are also dull plodders. Alice finds that she has little time for them. When she finds herself in London, Taylor uses the situation to his advantage by describing the strong contrast of the unforgiving landscape of the American prairies and the bustling streets and tree-lined squares of London. Alice adapts to her newest surroundings. In fact, she flourishes and blooms like a classic English rose. But nibbling away inside is a deep secret. It seems as if it's eating her alive.
Taylor describes the bleakness of Alice's early years extremely well. His style - great chunks of narrative presented in, sometimes, protracted and long-winded sentences, works. Similar say, to Dickens or Trollope in his 'style on the printed page.' I gobbled it all up willingly. I was drawn right into the centre of Alice's life from the start. I was hooked. I was keen to find out what she was going to do next. Taylor is also clever in his sentence construction which is fluid and smooth and which all adds to the charm of the story and of the Edwardian period.
The parallel story concerns a young man called Ralph. He appears quiet, thoughtful, seems to do nothing much at all. He lives with his uncle somewhere in the home counties. There's a lovely section which deals with the uncle's sudden change in fortunes. He's made it. And, a bit like some big lottery winners today, goes out and spends, spends, spends. But in essence, he's still the same rather humble man. There are also some lovely light touches of irony which I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed.
We're given a bit of a potted history of the times: many mentions of prime ministers, MPs, the tragic sinking of the Titanic, for example. Some of the throwaway remarks around groaning dinner tables, are priceless. It also, I think, displays the rather narrow lives of some sections of the upper middle-classes in London where world events took place - but their lives carried on regardless.
Although the story is set in the 1930s with all its trappings for those who could afford them - servants, maids, country homes when London's dusty summer descended etc, the plot is timeless. In fact, you could argue that you're heard it all before. But that doesn't matter a jot. After a wonderful and lengthy build up of suspense until you're just about bursting, Taylor give us Alice's unique way of dealing with her own dark matters.
The latter part of the novel is almost Agatha Christie-esque. Legal matters ago-go.
This novel is a satisfying, big read in the traditional sense of story-telling. Recommended.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ask Alice by D J Taylor at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
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