28 Nov 2009
"Just because something scares you, just because you say this is awful and repulsive, it doesn't mean that it is insignificant." - A.M. Homes
The End of Alice sneaks us in the back doors of our upright suburban neighborhoods to reveal the impulses that even in our frank, outspoken times we don't talk about.
This is a tale told by a paedophile in his twenty-third year in a maximum security prison. He is intelligent; he is witty; he is profoundly dangerous. Beyond the reality of his stark cell and the violent perversion of the other inmates lies his imagination, which he turns to his past, to an "accident" with a little girl named Alice, and now to the erotic life of a nineteen-year-old suburban co-ed who draws him into a flirtatious epistolary exchange.
At home on summer break from college, she writes to the prisoner about her taste for young boys, her lust for one twelve-year-old in particular. She is inspired by the convict's crimes; he is excited by her peculiar obsession. Into the veneer of middle-class convention—the tennis lessons, baby-sitting, and family dinners—she casts her line for the boy. He bites. As her reports of their strange affair progress, the prisoner's memory unravels, revealing the appalling circumstances of his captivity, his deadly and lingering infatuation with Alice.
The intertwined fixations of these unlikely correspondents give The End of Alice its haunting, unsettling power.
A rather dark and sadistic first review for my brand-spanking new blog and though my reading is generally focused towards children's fiction, I sometimes veer off into somewhat darker places. And this is certainly no exception.
I came across The End of Alice a few years ago while I was working in a bookshop in Melbourne. A friend of a friend of mine asked if I could order in a book for her university course. Naturally when she told me about it, I was intrigued.
There's incest, homosexual rape, sex with minors - and that's just the base ingredients of the cake. If Homes has succeeded in anything; it is her ability to shock even the most toughest of readers. I imagine it would make the average reader feel sick to the stomach.
So why read it?
That is a good question. Unless you're a university psychology student, what would the average joe gain from this peverse horror? I couldn't answer honestly. But I think, every once in a while, we like to explore the very depths of the human psyche. And this is one such tale that is not likely to be forgotten easily.