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Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot

Alice in Sunderland (2007)

by Bryan Talbot

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4402023,849 (3.9)79
  1. 10
    From Hell by Alan Moore (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: ALL psychogeography should be written as graphic novels - these two show why.
  2. 10
    Lancashire, Where Women Die of Love by Charles Nevin (nessreader)
    nessreader: Both full to bursting with random and arcane details about the north of england, shared with the reader in a spirit of jingoistic glee.
  3. 10
    Automated Alice by Jeff Noon (madmarch)

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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Knowing how well-loved Alice in Sunderland is by some friends (some of whom aren't on Goodreads), it feels sacrilegious to give it any fewer than five stars.

The variety of artistic styles and pastiches really is spectacular, and the experience felt like reading a big kids' factual book of the Usborne sort (a very good thing).

However. Sometimes your perception of a work's novelty depends on what else you've been reading. Strong authorial presence, tangential, almost stream-of-consciousness sequencing, layers of reality, and use of a medium associated with fiction to tell a story that's a melange of non-fiction and autobiography: all feel a lot less original after reading contemporary literary fiction than they probably would if preceded by a bunch of superhero comics. To me, just now, this style of storytelling verges on the routine.

The book isn't a quarter so much fantastical fairytale admixture as I'd hoped and assumed: this is a graphic history of Sunderland (and a bit about comics) featuring a lot about Lewis Carroll and Alice and their connections to the area.

A fair bit of the book resembles a local museum. With all the sometimes utterly charming, sometimes embarrassingly dull, desperation to display every possible tenuous interesting fact and every minor link to a somewhat famous person in the hope of convincing curators and visitors alike that here really really is every bit as interesting as a capital city. (Depth about a few topics is more interesting, I find - but that isn't really the point of these places, and just when I've started to cringe and/or wish I was elsewhere, up pops something really interesting.) A lot of the museumish pages are reminiscent of those exhibition displays which are all boards with writing and black & white photos, and next to no artefacts. Too static. All my favourite episodes of Alice in Sunderland had lots of movement, lots happening. The very funny literal illustration of the "Once more unto the breach" speech; the Norman Conquest in what looks to my relatively untrained eye like a traditional mid-century comics style; the Lambton Worm. I sense a common theme... Perhaps I should read comics about medieval warfare.

And, well, half the reason I bought this was because of attempts to bring some resolution to negative memories about the north-east, of spending a significant amount of my childhood there feeling exiled and resentful, and the way that, although I'd like to be able to, I honestly can't fully refute a rude family criticism of the area as "a cultural desert". (This background also meant that more of the content was more familiar than it might be to people who haven't spent much time in the area.) Why has it, on a national level, less of a modern cultural and artistic presence than most other areas of Britain? Talbot, like most other commentators who obliquely address this - usually because of the economic parallels - brings it back to the Harrying of the North, given that Northumbria was a great centre in Saxon times. And Alice itself was written in and associated with other areas, this Sunderland business seeming like a far better-substantiated cousin of the Yorkshire Robin Hood theory. There is a book or a broad-sweep PhD thesis in the question 'Why has North East England never fully recovered from the Harrying of the North?'. That would probably get as close as anything could to satisfying my wonderings. Answering that question obviously isn't the job of a graphic novel about Alice in Wonderland and local history.

I may grump but I enjoyed quite a lot of the book and did find out some interesting things. Beamish, destination of innumerable boring school trips, actually does have to do with "my beamish boy" in 'Jabberwocky' - after all my careful and solemn childhood self-tellings that it was just a coincidence. The Liddells and Carrol really did have quite a lot to do with the area: even if most of the connections were indvidually tenuous, they all add up. 'Alice in Sunderland' is a Shadows song. Talbot seems like a nice person, confirming what I'd already read in a friend's recent review of Dotter of Her Father's Eyes. And Anglo-Saxons emigrated, became asylum seekers in Talbot's words, to Byzantium after the Norman Conquest. (I have a long-running fascination with pre-colonial emigration by ordinary civilians but this stuff is not easy to find out about.)

The finale, the final ten pages especially, have an energy that does, after all that, feel like 'an entertainment'. I wish slightly more of the book had felt that way to me, but it's all still very impressive visually.

Read 4-5 Sept 2013. ( )
  antonomasia | Sep 12, 2013 |
Absolutely wonderful reimagining of the author's home region of England. It was also Lewis Carroll's. The author uses the idea of the White Rabbit to guide the reader through that region, its history (or is it?) and some of its most famous sites and characters both historic and fictional. There are fascinating ruminations and depictions on everything from The Venerable Beade to John Lennon . An outstanding example of what a GN can accomplish. ( )
  Kissyalicekali | Aug 3, 2013 |
A history of Sunderland that in itself involves telling of story of invasions of Britain by Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings and most brutal of all - the Normans. It lists trivia and achievements of antecedents of Mackham (people of Sunderland). By and large, this was also the place where Lewis Caroll's muse Alice Liddel lived and how story of 'Alice in Wonderland' evolved.

So far a very interesting read - it tells the truth about death of Sidney James onstage. Henry Irving ---

Graphic style is unconventional - a collage of sketches reproduced, reproduction of old photographs, newspaper clippings and four main character sketches. Three of the characters have been played by author himself and fourth is the pilgrim who is in theater 'Empire of Sunderland' watching the show.

There is lot of meta in the book - a comic in the comic. Pilgrim reading comic in the comic. I will come back when I finish reading the book and clean up this review.
  poonamsharma | Apr 6, 2013 |
This really is a difficult book to review. A graphic novel - no that's not right as it's not a novel, so perhaps... a graphic book? Part local history of Sunderland (an old industrial town in the North-East of England); part history of Lewis Carroll (in particular his associations with the town); part history of Alice Liddell (the model for the original Alice); and part history of Alice in Wonderland itself. It touches on a huge number of topics and characters along the way and is all bound together with a wonderful mixture of styles and colours of grpahic art.

I think I loved the idea of the book rather more than I loved the book itself, but I think that maybe because I read it at the wrong time and in the wrong way. It's a complex book: picking up and putting down snippets of information, only to resurrect them a hundred pages later, and I think needs to be read quite slowly and carefully, whereas I read it straight through when I was feeling I'll and I think my brain wasn't sufficiently in gear. So for me an interesting book rather than a great one. However, I'm pretty sure that I'll revisit it more slowly and I may revise my ideas. ( )
1 vote SandDune | Oct 20, 2012 |
A graphic novel of the history of Sunderland, which was tied up in the history of Alice - for as nonlinear and meta as the whole thing was, it made a lot of sense. ( )
  dknippling | Dec 16, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
The book is incredibly wide-ranging, from prehistory to modern art to metaphysics. Some sections are more interesting than others, but each reader’s choices will differ as to which is which. Like the weather, if you don’t like one page, just wait a bit, and it’ll change. It’s a great book to dip into and sample various sections, or to return to at different times with different interests.
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Sunderland! Thirteen hundred years ago it was the greatest center of learning in the whole of Christendom and the very cradle of English consciousness. In the time of Lewis Carroll it was the greatest shipbuilding port in the world. To this city that gave the world the electric light bulb, the stars and stripes, the millennium, the Liberty Ships and the greatest British dragon legend came Carroll in the years preceding his most famous book, Alice in Wonderland, and here are buried the roots of his surreal masterpiece. Enter the famous Edwardian palace of varieties, The Sunderland Empire, for a unique experience: an entertaining and epic meditation on myth, history and storytelling then decide for yourself — does Sunderland really exist?
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Alice in Sunderland explores the links between Lewis Carroll and the Sunderland area, with wider themes of history, myth and storytelling-- and the truth about what happened to Sid James on stage at the Sunderland Empire.

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