Still She Haunts Me by Katie Roiphe

DATE FINISHED: March 31st, 2011

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS: When Charles Dodgson meets the Liddell family he is quickly enchanted by one of their daughters Alice – future muse for the classic ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.  It’s a historical fact that after many photographs and years of friendship, Dodgson’s contact with the Liddells was brought abruptly to an end, and the pages of Dodgson’s personal diary from this period were removed.  Roiphe offers an interpretation of what might have happened…

THOUGHTS: While I don’t necessarily agree with Roiphe’s conclusions regarding the Dodgson-Liddell mystery, I do think she presented a strong case that was sympathetically presented.  She name-dropped a lot of Dodgson’s contemporaries and I don’t think this necessarily helped the story; in fact I felt the story was told slightly too factually for my taste and that I was told how the characters were feeling or thinking more often than shown.  But the essence of Roiphe’s novel is succinctly condensed in her journal entry on behalf of Dodgson: “the portraits are not portraits of the girls so much as the artist’s state of mind“.

I was relieved upon reading this book that I did not find it truly distasteful (as I did A. N. Wilson’s ‘Dream Children’) even if not so charmingly characterised as John MacLachlan Gray’s ‘White Stone Day’, and I was glad that although Roiphe’s personal interpretation of events is clear, it is told with sufficient ambiguity that alternative scenarios might be imagined.

FOLLOWING ON: ‘White Stone Day’ by John MacLachlan Gray (as mentioned above) is a wonderful period mystery that draws strongly on the Dodgson-Liddell mythology and is very engagingly written.  The frequent photographic references also reminded me of ‘Sixty Lights’ by Gail Jones.

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