I can’t remember when or where I heard of Alice and the Fly by Jame Rice, but I’m really glad I did. This UK YA novel focuses on Greg, an unreliable teen narrator, struggling through everyday life as visions of an initially mysterious ‘Them’ haunt him. The blurb gives little away, only providing a microscopic glimpse into the novel as a whole:
Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition’s caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. But I’ve always had it. It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.
There’s plenty to intrigue a reader in the early stages of Alice and the Fly, not least of which is the title. Greg narrates the majority of the novel in the form of a diary, given to him by the afore-mentioned Miss Hayes in order for him to document his thoughts, but addressed to a girl who he initially seems to be following home. This involves taking a bus to an area called the Pitt, the less-privileged neighbour to Greg’s native Skipdale; from early on, there’s a sense of class tension and underlying resentment, which increase in significance.
Aside from Greg’s diary, there are intermittent interruptions in the form of police transcripts, making it clear that something terrible has happened which is not obvious at the outset. As we read the people around Greg describe him and react to what’s happened, the lack of proper interaction in his own narrative is highlighted, and so Greg’s isolation becomes more and more heartbreaking.
I found that the most effective way to read this book was to immerse myself in it fully, binge-reading the last two-thirds in one go; this helped me to follow Greg’s thoughts more effectively and fully appreciate the narrative quirks which point towards the mystery of what has actually happened and Greg’s part in it. I’ve mentioned that’s he’s unreliable as a narrator, but he does not set out to deceive; rather, Greg struggles to sense what’s real and what isn’t, which drives him further into paranoia and solitude. It’s really a very sad story.
Alice and the Fly sort of snuck up on me, leaving me quite devastated more than once. Despite the increasing number of YA books focusing on mental illness, this one is still original and unique, making it well worth reading.