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Alice in Plunderland not for kids – nor the faint at heart

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Cover illustration by Clelia Scala, source BookThug.

Last week, Alpha Textbooks went to the Toronto launch of Steve McCaffery’s Alice in Plunderland (BookThug), a new parody that situates our beloved Alice in the postmodern “mythical city” of Tronna.

I was excited to get the newest edition of McCaffery’s witty, if not countercultural, brilliance. I anticipated the reading would impress, but I didn’t expect to be a little bit shocked.

Alice in Plunderland is a daring – no holds barred – retelling of Alice’s journey that will amuse and surprise even the most skeptical of readers. Or, on the flip side, it has the potential to infuriate readers. If it were a movie, it might be rated 18A – not R, because all the “bad” swear words are starred out.

In this version of Wonderland, Alice is a recovering junkie who came from a wealthy Tronna family, and who attended one of Tronna’s best private schools. The journey begins when a running bank teller rushes passed Alice, while pulling out a thick wad of cash and kissing it. This sparks Alice’s cravings, compelling her to chase after the teller. Alice’s curiosity leads her to fall down a sewer, a “manhole.”


Illustration by Clelia Scala, source BookThug

“Alice was not a bit hurt, and she jumped up on to her feet in a moment: she looked up, but it was dark overhead; before her was another passage, but this time sewage-free and the young bank teller was still in sight, hurrying down it with her shocking-pink hair and thick wad of hundred-dollar bills forming an aesthetically pleasing chromatic contrast.”

Indeed, as in the original story, Alice finds substances to ingest in the city’s nether-regions. Her journey though Plunderland is a racy, vulgar and a most inappropriate adventure for this well-spoken, privileged, but “sleeping” girl.

As usual, McCaffery’s book is chock-full of poetic devices, witticisms and symbolism.

Who the book is not good for:

It’s not good for teenage students. The explicit nature of the book, grotesque descriptions, and cringe-making scenes make it inappropriate for younger readers. The writing style and diction is also advanced, and coupled with the nonsensical nature of the events that occur throughout the narrative, it would be considered a tough read even for some adults. Even if younger students could grasp the language… let’s be realistic, encouraging anyone under the age of 18 to read it would be controversial.

Who it is good for:

On the other hand, the book could be seen as an interesting study for university students, or 18+ year olds who are learning to think critically about language. The challenging aspects of the book – language, themes, literary devices, allusions and symbolism – are balanced by a humorous, parodic approach. Also, the story is so bold in its approach that it might engage even the most nonchalant and disinterested young-adult to read on.

They might ask the questions: Why write this? Why represent the city this way? What’s being said? How is it effective? How is it ineffective? How is language (be it diction, sounds, content, or other variables) used to assist storytelling? Does the book have a goal and is it achieved? What does parody do for us?

For adults?

Liking or disliking the book would be completely individual and relative to your experience of the world and literature. You might think it rich, remarkable, funny, or boundary breaking. Its treatment of the original text (and the tropes used) is so absurd that it’s ludicrous – perhaps much like the original story. You need to read the book though the same lens that you watch a Trey Parker performance. Then again, one could also easily say that the book is fun for a few pages, but the shock-value wears off, and it gets stale quickly. Sometimes it’s reaching.

Beautiful collage illustrations, by Clelia Scala, colour the novel’s pages. The illustrations are wonderful, funny, and they capture the essence of both Alice in Plunderland and Wonderland.

Whatever your thoughts on it, it’s safe to say that the book is different.


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