Alice in Bed by Judith Hooper

Although her brothers Henry and William are better known, Alice James was a fascinating person in her own right. In Alice in Bed author Judith Hooper makes her first foray into fiction by drawing extensively on her experience writing non-fiction. The result is a hybrid work that uses historical fact to inform the fictional accounts of the less covered sister of the James family. Hooper mixes actual correspondence between the family members and snippets of Alice's diary with her own speculations to form a fairly cohesive portrait of the intelligent and elusive Alice.

The Alice who narrates this book is a woman who is bound to her current situation because of her physical and mental ailments and 19th century societal conventions. It is obvious that Alice's intellect is easily on par with that of her brothers, but as the youngest child, a woman, and a person who suffers from debilitating illness the cards are really stacked against her. Alice is frustrated that modern medicine cannot find a cause or cure to her sickness. Worse, the stigma that surrounds a person with any kind of mental disorder makes it nearly impossible to provide any proper treatment. Despite being bedridden, Alice is still mentally sharp and able to hold her own against her brothers and anyone else she comes in contact with. This makes for a fascinating juxtaposition of physical and mental health.

Alice in Bed is first and foremost a character study. Hooper goes into great detail to provide context and understanding to the James family, treatment of mental health, and a woman's place in society of the time. Because the novel is more character driven that plot driven, the deliberate pace can sometimes become a bit tedious. Fortunately the characters are so deeply imagined that their development becomes the motivation to keep turning the pages. I was reminded of another book with an Alice as a main character, After Alice by Gregory Maguire, in which the main female character struggles to fit into the role that society tells her she should be in. Both novels serve as a reminder of how far women's rights have come in the last couple hundred years and how far we still have to go.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.
This review is part of TLC Book Tours.

(2016, 14)

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