I’m terrified of spiders, but my fear doesn’t control my life or my actions or my mind, like it does for Greg, the protagonist in James Rice’s devastating debut Alice and the Fly.
Teenager Greg has severe arachnophobia, rich parents, no friends, and a crush on a girl at school, Alice. As his fascination with Alice grows, Greg nurtures his love for her and tries to combat the debililitating fear he has of spiders.
Alice and the Fly is beautifully told, especially so given its serious and sometimes dark subject matters. Rice somehow manages to make the book uplifting in parts, despite the tragic events that unfold.
But it’s Rice’s intimate examination of mental illness that deserves the most praise and attention. Told by Greg, Alice and the Fly both offers an insight into the mind of a teenager suffering from mental illness, while simultaneously making the reader realise just how difficult it is to ever understand what someone suffering from arachnophobia is going through. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t try to understand, something Rice conveys through Greg’s parents, who clearly love their child but don’t know how to help him, and in some ways have given up.
Rice creates a fascinating world around Greg. Firstly, there is the titular Alice, and it’s easy to see why Greg, shy and friendless, falls for her – Alice is both unattainable and vulnerable. I also found Greg’s sister Sarah absolutely fascinating. In fact, Greg’s entire family were hugely intriguing – a grandmother we never meet, a sister obsessed with perfecting a dance and falling in with the popular kids, a father whose job is to physically alter the appearance of people and a mother whose life is validated by the opinions of other people. Appearances are important to Greg’s family, it’s as though if they can make everything look perfect, they can ignore Greg’s problem and pretend everything is ok. Greg’s family are also a chance, I think, for Rice to explore the sometimes hereditary nature of mental illness, the different forms it can take, and the different severities of it.
Ultimately, Alice and the Fly is about love, and how it can both destroy and build people. It’s an absolutely beautiful book, that is both sad and uplifting. It’s full of tragedy, but also nuggets of hope, and is a painful, honest examination of mental illness, as well as a story of what it’s like to be a lonely, scared teenager.
*Alice and the Fly is out on January 15, 2015.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton. This did not affect my review.