The basics: Told in five sections, Alice offers five glimpses of its titular character. In each section, there is also a death.
My thoughts: Given the short length of this novel (160 pages), I intended to read it in a single setting. After I finished its first section, however, I wanted time to ponder. I ended up spreading out this slim volume over five days: one for each of its sections. Some describe this book as linked stories, and while I suppose that is technically true, it read like a character-driven novel. Alice is the focus of each section, even though the sections are named for the person who dies. As the theme of death becomes more clear (the first character was on death's door as the novel began, while the second character was unexpectedly ill), the argument that Alice is a novel becomes stronger. Taken individually, the focus can be on the death of the characters whose section bears their name. Taken as a whole, the stories are Alice's and made this reader ponder bigger notions of life and death. It was easy to identify with Alice, as we've all known people who have died, but it was also easy to imagine myself as those characters who were neither Alice nor the dying ones. The scope and shape of the story rely on this perspective.
Favorite passage: "When she got back from her visit, Alice had asked Raymond, Would you rather die before me or after me? After you, I think, Raymond had said. It had taken a while before he could answer; he seemed to consider the question itself impossible. Why? He asked. He wasn’t quite sure. And you? She’d shaken her head and put her hand over his mouth. She couldn’t answer him."
The verdict: To view the life of a person by witnessing the actions before and after five deaths is beguiling. Alice herself was fascinating, and Hermann's writing is crisp. While all five sections could work as standalones, this novel truly is more than the sum of its parts.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 160 pages
Publication date: August 1, 2011
Source: interlibrary loan
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Alice from the Book Depository or Amazon (no Kindle version, sadly.)
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