This novel is almost impossible to review.
From the title I was intrigued. The blurb interested me further and as I started reading this novel and stepped into the world of Greg my whole being was invested into this tome.
The tagline for this book suggests a book about phobias, obsessions, isolation, dark corners, families, secrets and above all love. But, I think it’s more than that. It’s a novel that explores the human condition through the eyes of a flawed protagonist who, in their own eyes, isn’t flawed, but to the rest of the world, is. It’s a novel about the vast differences in the way we all view things and how the very idea of reality is perpetually changing.
Greg is perhaps seen as a typical teenage character in today’s world of fiction – an angsty teenager with a dysfunctional family and mental health challenges to boot. But what makes him stand out from the crowd is his compassion.
Mental health is a topic very close to my heart and when portrayed in fiction it can sometimes be misunderstood. Throughout Alice And The Fly we know something is fundamentally wrong with the way Greg sees the world – his obsessions and phobias and isolation (as described by the tag line) all combine to create a protagonist we feel unable to trust and, in all honesty, one we become afraid of.
Greg is asked to keep a diary by his school teacher, Miss Hayes, who thinks that writing everything down will help to ‘deal’ with his plight. Alice And The Fly is this diary. Everything is told through dated diary entries and through these we learn about Greg’s obsession with beautiful school girl, Alice, we are given an insight into the rather bleak and one dimensional family Greg lives with and we become aware of Greg’s fear of ‘Them’.
I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic towards Greg. He was flawed, made some quite frightening decisions but he was doing it for love. For acceptance. To be seen as Greg, not ‘the psycho’.
We are aware from the outset of Alice And The Fly that something terrible has happened, yet we only become privy to details about the event towards the end of the book. By this point I believe the reader will either be engulfed with sympathy for Greg or will be willing his downfall. I was very much the former, and, whilst learning about what occurred, I just couldn’t stop my love for Greg. He was a victim of ignorance, of misunderstanding. He was let down by those around him.
That is perhaps the greatest message of this novel. Like many others before him, Rice has presented a situation where the ‘abnormal, psycho, strange’ character is allowed to tell their story. It makes us, as readers, feel guilty that we may carry around prejudice notions about characters like Greg – if we were to meet a ‘Greg’ in the street, would we be so sympathetic or would we cower and become another person to reinforce the ignorance and misunderstanding?
I like to think that with experience of my own mental health challenges and of those around me, that I would be Greg’s friend. I would want to be the one to offer out a hand and to help.
I envisage this beautiful book will be high upon the ‘best debut novels of 2015’ lists and will also probably win an award or two. Well, I hope anyway.
James Rice is one to look out for.