True Confessions from Wonderland Book Review

Writer Lynn Murphy gives a completely different perspective on the classic Alice in Wonderland. Instead of Alice’s point of view, this story gives the point of view of all the other characters in Wonderland. Young reader Maddy falls into the story of Alice in Wonderland and then interviews all of the chief characters in turn. They all pretty much deny the Lewis Carroll version of the story.

As an Alice fan, I had mixed feelings about this one. I’m not entirely sure this is the version I prefer, if I have to choose only one. Even so, there were many things I enjoyed about this book, and many places that made me smile or laugh. This version of Wonderland has much of the “madness” taken out of it as well as the dangers while still holding on to some wonder and charm. I actually think it would be a preferable Wonderland to visit without worrying about having your head chopped off or more nonsense than you can handle.

I also appreciated that the writer was very familiar with the original, its classic illustrations and several of its more famous movie versions, making different references to these.

And though this is still a fantasy, there are also a few interesting true background facts thrown in such as how it is that hat makers were thought to be mad or in danger of becoming mad or how John Tenniel was inspired to draw the Mad Hatter.

Mad Hatter drawing by John Tenniel

All of the Wonderland characters that Maddy meets have long aristocratic names and have hidden talents and interests that are completely absent from the original version. The Mad Hatter’s name is Aldus Broderick Crookshanks McGillicutty-Smythe, and the White Rabbit enjoys oil painting. All of the characters are described in a unique way as to their appearance and manner of dress which doesn’t agree with either the Tenniel illustrations or Disney portrayals of the characters. They also express themselves in a way that seems appropriate to 1800s characters, although they are, apparently, aware of some modern trends and technology.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“And, of course, I never miss the Zumba class the Mock Turtle teaches on Thursdays.” — the White Rabbit

When Maddy questions this, he says, “How else do you think we all stay fit enough for quadrilles and caucus racing?”

“I had argued with my mother that morning and then stubbed four of my toes on the front door” — The Caterpillar.

“Poor Carl, he is portrayed as a surly, unpleasant and unattractive sort of servant, when in reality, for a fish footman, he is rather handsome and keeps his scales clean. He never smells fishy either, which I assure you is a fine thing when your servants are of the fish variety.” — the Duchess

“Should you be surprised, having spoken to so many others, that there was no singing at the table of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat?’ Oh, it’s a song we all know, of course, but no one was singing it on that particular day.” — The Dormouse.

I’m so glad “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat” is part of the Wonderland culture even in this version. The Dormouse interview might be my favorite part of this book.

Maddy tells the March Hare that kids today are not generally very interested in classic literature and, instead, enjoy Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants.

Finally, the Hare said, “What kind of writer names his character after unmentionables?”

I appreciate a lot of the nonsense in the original Alice as a kind of clever nonsense, but there is one scene in the original book which perplexes and bothers me, because it doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. That is the scene where a baby the Duchess is holding transforms into a pig. In this version of the story, what happens here is much more rational.

The croquet game in this book is still whimsical but without any abuse to animals, although I like to believe that the animals in Wonderland don’t mind participating in this silly version of the game. Also, all of the playing card characters get to keep their heads in Murphy’s version of the story.

At the conclusion, Maddy leaves it up to you which version you think is the true one.

In her afterword, Murphy explains that she is an art teacher at a K-12 school and that she was inspired to write the book after the school held an exhibition with an Alice the Wonderland theme. She discovered that many of the teachers and students did not like the book or Alice. Although she had always enjoyed the book, her mind began to imagine a different version of things.

My Family and Other Animals

My Family and Other Animals is the first title in The Corfu Trilogy, memoirs of British naturalist, Gerald Durrell, who is captivated by nature and animals and the study of them from a young age. It is the inspiration behind the Masterpiece Theatre series, The Durrells in Corfu

I haven’t seen the PBS series. I have seen trailers for it and was intrigued by them, partly because I was attracted to the period feel and partly because I have enjoyed other Masterpiece Theatre series. After reading the first book in this trilogy and after reading more about the PBS series, I’m intrigued but cautious. I can’t imagine I would like the show more than the book … which I enjoyed very much. I’m not saying I would not give the series a chance, but I know words would be pared down to dialogue — which may or may not be true to the book — and it would be missing all of the beautiful narrative language from the books.

I knew I was in for something good when even the book dedications in the opening pages were full of humor. The title, of course, is also light and funny, suggesting that his family was just another species of interesting animals to be studied. After reading a chapter or two, I persuaded both my mother and father to read it and helped them download the trilogy for Kindle. Amazon prime members can read the Kindle version of the trilogy for free. The trilogy  includes Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods. 

I am an Amazon affiliate, and, if you purchase through links on this site, I may get a little commission. 

I thought Dad would like the book, because the main character, the writer himself, Gerald or Gerry, is a boy with scientific curiosities, much like Dad, and I felt Dad would appreciate the humor. The story also involves a few boating adventures I thought my father would like. I thought Mom would like it, because she often prefers biographies to fiction, and she enjoyed James Herriot’s books. While Durrell’s and Herriot’s style and subject are a bit different, they do have a few things in common … animals and funny anecdotes, which mostly involve animals. Neither parent has yet finished the first book, but it seems, so far, that my recommendation to them is a good one.

Gerald Durrell and his dog, Roger Source: Pinterest

I mentioned earlier that the book is set in a past time period. It was tricky for me to exactly place the period for the setting at first. I don’t remember reading mention of any years, but there were a few clues. One of Gerry’s mentors, Dr. Theodore Stephanides, fought in World War I. The book mentions “an ancient Dodge” and a gramophone and other references to the technology of the time.  At first, I placed the period somewhere in the twenties. Then, I read on to a scene where the mother of the family was described as wearing a frilly and old-fashioned bathing costume which the daughter describes as looking like it were from 1920. I was able to place the period more precisely when I learned from, that Gerald was born in 1925. The first book describes happenings while he was ten years old which must then be 1935.

Gerald Durrell with owl, Source: Daily Mail

The book is divided into three sections themed by three villas where the family lived in Corfu: the strawberry-pink villa, the daffodil-yellow villa and the snow-white villa. Their reasons for moving each time, at least the way they are described in the book, are all humorous. The family moves from England to Corfu, because they are all ill and the eldest son, Larry, suggests it, seemingly on a whim. The climate would be better for their health. The second time, they move to a larger villa, because Larry, who is an aspiring writer, has invited seven or eight of his artistic friends to stay with them. Later, they move to a smaller villa, because an annoying relative from England wants to stay with them and they need an excuse not to take her in. 

My father, after beginning his reading, got curious about the island and did some armchair exploring via Google maps. He found a location on the island labeled as the Durrell Family White House. I can only suppose this is the snow-white villa. If you go to the link, you can explore it yourself, get a good view of the villa and the sea and a sign that says, “White House Restaurant.”

Here is a view of the sea from Corfu, looking towards the Albanian coast. 

Corfu, looking towards Albanian coast. Source: Google maps.

Many of the stories in the book involve Gerry’s family, not just the animals that interested him … thus, the title. He describes his eldest brother Larry as someone absorbed with books, taking two cases of books with him to Corfu, and writing, always typing away at his typewriter. It did make me wonder if Larry became a successful writer or if Gerald became the writer of the family. I did find out that Lawrence Durrell published several books as well, both fiction and travel writings, including the Alexandria Quartet

His brother Leslie is described as someone obsessed with outdoorsy sports like hunting and boating. He does build Gerry a boat as a birthday gift, which Gerry names the Bootle-Bumtrinket. I really wondered at the meaning of “bumtrinket,” since the boys’ mother seems a bit shocked and embarrassed at the name, and because I know “bum” is Brit-talk for butt. The only definition I could find is that a bumtrinket is “an annoying person.” 

Sister Margo is described as someone very concerned with her appearance and worried about her weight and acne. Gerry himself becomes fascinated with wild life and spends a lot of time, being outdoors and studying insect life, bird life and other animals. He is frequently bringing home insects in jars or other small animals he finds and keeps as pets. In this first book, you will meet his dog, Roger, a tortoise named Achilles, a pigeon named Quasimodo, a scops owl named Ulysses, a gecko named Geronimo, a mantis named Cicely, some magpies, simply called Magenpies based on their Greek friend’s pronunciation of the bird, a gull — Larry calls it an albatross — named Alecko and a baby donkey called Sally.

More dogs join the family, including two messy puppies named Widdle and Puke, and their mother’s dog, a Dandie Dinmont terrier named Dodo. There are also some un-named animals, and animals that Gerry simply observes but doesn’t capture. You’ll learn about Quasimodo’s eccentricities and love of music, doing his own version of waltzes and marches to music on the gramophone, Achilles choosing body parts on which to practice mountaineering and the trouble it caused when Dodo becomes popular with all of the male dogs in the neighborhood.

Gerald Durrell with tortoise and pigeons, Source: Daily Mail

The writer does a wonderful job of interspersing stories of his family drama, often goofy incidents, with descriptions of his natural history discoveries. I sometimes wondered at his powerful memory of detail in these early events of his life. I think I found the explanation, as Gerry had a series of tutors, and one of them encouraged him to note down his observations of nature and also to keep a diary. 

I would recommend the book for those who love animals, enjoy travel writing, enjoy funny stories involving family life and animals and for those who enjoy beautiful, descriptive narrative. Here is an example …

“This doll’s house garden was a magic land, a forest of flowers through which roamed creatures I had never seen before.  Among the thick, silky petals of each rose bloom lived tiny crab-like spiders that scuttled sideways when disturbed. Their small translucent bodies were colored to match the flowers they inhabited: pink, ivory, wine red or buttery yellow. On the rose stems, encrusted with green flies, ladybirds moved like newly painted toys; ladybirds pale red with large black spots, ladybirds apple red with brown spots, ladybirds orange with gray-and-black freckles. Rotund and amiable, they prowled and fed among the anaemic flocks of greenfly. Carpenter bees, like furry, electric-blue bears, zigzagged among the flowers, growling fatly and busily…”