Alice and the Fly: 'a darkly quirky story of love, obsession and fear' Anna James
By James Rice
Perfect for fans of Nathan Filer’s THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME comes the book of the year…. A spellbinding first novel by a British author about how obsessions and phobias can upend your entire life.Tweet
Alice and the Fly is narrated by Greg, a teenager who we soon find out has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. We spend nearly the whole book inside Greg’s head as he lives his daily life, the only exceptions being when we read police transcripts from interviews with his friends and family regarding an incident, as yet unspecified. Greg’s life is not easy. He is bullied at school, has phobias, is obsessed with a girl called Alice and is terrified of THEM, demons that come to taunt him and often provoke an “episode”. His parents just want him to be normal, which doesn’t really help. This book is basically a diary written by Greg himself.
This is a very interesting book as it explores issues relating to mental health (and schizophrenia in particular) in some depth. I have no way of knowing whether it was realistic as I have no direct experience in this area, but it was written with a conviction that gave it an air of authenticity. As the tension builds towards the end it became more interesting as the revelation about the nature of the “incident” approaches.
However, sadly my experience of reading this book was not all positive. It is definitely a slow-burner, rather too slow a lot of the time. There is a certain amount of tension because it is obvious that the story is building up to something dramatic. And there are plenty of hints from the police interviews that that “something” is not going to be good. However, being inside the head of a teenage schizophrenic is not a comfortable place to be and the detail which Greg records in his “diary” makes the book dull in places. It really is quite hard work. Not to mention the actual style of writing that is used when he is having one of his “episodes” – no punctuation whatsoever for a whole chapter. Finally, despite the fact that I believe Greg is a plausible character, I personally had trouble relating to him as his experiences were so far removed from my own.
Alice and the Fly is James Rice’s debut novel and it is clear that he has talent as a writer. Despite that, I would hesitate to recommend this book to people who did not have a specific interest in mental health.
We had quite a lively discussion in our book club about Alice and the Fly. I hated it whilst others loved it. Why read a book which is unremittingly sad and depressing?
There was no joy or hope in this at all. Every character was unlikeable which is unrealistic at best. The teenagers in it were depicted as immoral, cruel, thoughtless animals. I know a lot of teenagers and this is a ridiculous, simplistic portrayal. I suspect James doesn't know any, he no doubt got his opinions from the Daily Mail and horrendous American Frat movies.
There are plenty of stories set in distopian worlds which have a tiny spark of hope and humanity which makes the stories compelling. This was too bleak for me.
I wouldn't recommend this book and I will not read anymore of his.
Alice and the Fly by James Rice
Our book club had quite a wide diversity of views on this book with some really enjoying it and others finding it unmemorable. The explicit and violent parts were unexpected on the whole and felt to be unnecessary.
The inconsistent style of writing made it confusing and although the story was intense the main characters Greg and Alice were stereotypical and unbelievable. Their families are dysfunctional and every one of them has their own demons to fight.
Greg’s father is a plastic surgeon who escapes from everyday reality into the arms of his secretary. By studying x-rays of breast tissue at the kitchen table he can drown out the voice of his wife fully outlining her next majorly expensive decorating project, or pretend not to notice the meal has been exactly same and inedible for a week while she perfects her next dinner party menu.
Alice’s father is a butcher and Greg works in his shop. It is left to the imagination what awful things Alice has to endure at home, but it seemed clear that the relationship between her and her father was abusive. When Greg starts to spy on her at home it does not take him long to form his own damning conclusions.
Greg’s mental health instability seems to resemble epilepsy more than the diagnosed schizophrenia. We found it surprising that he was allowed so much freedom in spite of it. He is basically labelled a ‘Psycho’ by his schoolmates and his family who either ignore him or plead with him to be ‘normal’. He is allowed to travel to school and is left to get on with school life since he is academically sound, except a well-meaning teacher tries unsuccessfully to provide some help. This takes the form of after school talking sessions – “psychotherapy” for which she is not qualified.
There is a police transcript that explains a major incident through the responses of the different characters in the story. Without this most of the group’s readers said they would have struggled to finish the book. We wondered if its target audience who we thought might be young adults might have enjoyed it more than most of us did.
Average score 5/10
A dark, intense and disturbing story told by the narrator, a teenage boy suffering from schizophrenia and overwhelming phobias. It is obvious all the way through that there is going to be an awful climax but the build up is riveting. The only element that didn't ring true for me was the boy's dysfunctional family. They seemed too unreal and extreme. Having said that I really enjoyed this debut novel from a very accomplished writer and would recommend it to others.
This is a book about phobias and obsessions. Greg suffers from a mental health problem which involves phobias and obsessions. It leads to many problems in his home and social life as a teenage boy. Teenagers can be very cruel and events lead to a shocking climax. This is a superbly well written book, not an easy read, but thought proving and well worth reading.
Read by the Tuesday reading group Hartlepool Central Library
A story which grabs your attention. The book is about loneliness and isolation and keeping up the appearance of being 'normal'. It is an interesting, different and uncomfortable read.
"I was drawn into ‘Alice and the Fly’ from the very beginning, an intriguing, page-turner of a book. This book gives the reader an empathetic viewpoint from which to see the world through the eyes of someone living with a mental illness. People need to read this book!"
This has been read by Norton Library Reading Group and they all felt it was well worth reading.
I couldn't put this book down. A dark and compelling read that stayed with me for ages. James Rice is a really talented writer and I'll definitely be looking out for what he writes next.
A compelling, well written and chilling portrayal of Greg's life. Morbidly curious, compelling read to find out the 'truth'. Lots of discussion regarding relevant issues at our book club meeting.
Currently being read by another London Borough of Sutton reading group. Will add their review under our review when they have completed reading it too. Thank you The Reading Agency for our book club reading sets!
WOW… What a talent for such a young writer, he has a very different way of looking
at the story, makes you see a very different viewpoint. Quite a heavy subject to base a story on.
I would not have read this book unless I had been reviewing it , but I am glad I did. very riveting
stuff. I never expected the love of his life to die in such a way. A bit disappointed with the ending
but all an all a great read. - Joyce S.
What a super book. Narrated by Greg who is a schizophrenic. He has a lisp is bullied at school. He is a quiet boy rarely speaks, does not have the skills to relate and communicate with society. He lives with his family, who are all self absorbed with their own lives to notice Greg. Greg is suffering and leads a miserable life .His teacher tries to help him but even she gives up on him as Greg is unable to express himself. Greg falls in love with a girl called Alice from school.
It hints that something terrible has happened relating to Greg as the story unfolds with interviews between central characters and the police. It was easy to connect with Greg and his suffering. He made your heart break. The characters were well written and believable There was humour and great observations of the characters and life in a village. At the beginning of the book where Greg described his bus journey to Skipdale and his mums obsession with house decorating etcetera, there was a hint of Alan Bennett. Overall a powerful book that captivated the reader. Top marks. – Judith H.
Alice and the Fly is the first novel written by James Rice. A very powerful, emotive, and at times disturbing story of a young man called Greg who struggles greatly with life in general. Characters and story are well described throughout. Greg suffers with problems that affect many people, and his story breaks your heart. On reading, we can see what ‘should’ or ‘might’ be done to help, and feel frustrated and angry at what is happening, but in the real world this IS happening and touching so many lives every day. We meet a young teacher; very caring and understanding who wants to help Greg, but she is wrongly accused for her actions. Greg’s father blanks out what is happening, and his mother struggles to cope.
Greg is a loving, caring and very sensitive young man who touches your heart and soul.
This book is disturbing, and holds your thoughts long after finishing the read. Very thought provoking, clever writing. Hats off to James Rice. – Adela I.
A thought provoking book, though not one I would necessarily have chosen to read. Greg has the misfortune of being ‘different’, due mainly to his phobia and lisp. This results in him being bullied and ridiculed by his peers.
His dysfunctional family do not help his situation as they do not appear to interact with each other at all.
His ‘friendship’ with Alice is based on him almost stalking her, even though he is in danger entering the neighbourhood where she lives.
I think that James Rice quite brilliantly highlights the problems faced by people who are unable, for various reasons, to conform to the norm. - Eileen S.
I did not think that I would enjoy this book, but I persevered right up to the end. Greg is unfortunately afflicted with a severe phobia and a lisp which results in him being bullied at school by his peers. I feel that his family is so dysfunctional and so full of their own lives that they have no time to talk to Greg about his life and feelings. His obsession with Alice and his way of waiting to catch a glimpse of her in my opinion makes him almost a stalker. I liked reading his journal and talks and interviews with Sergeant Terrence Mansell (TM) about all his various relationships.
Overall, not a book that I would have chosen to read, but enjoyed the read and did wonder how the (fly) came into the title of the book. Ann T.
I did try and read this book, but found it very disturbing so gave up on it! Aileen F.
This dark, and somewhat depressing story is not one I would have chosen to read, but once started, I felt compelled to read it in almost one sitting. It's certainly impressive as a debut novel, and its dark content stayed with me for some time after I'd closed the book. It offers an interesting perspective on mental health, focusing as it does on Greg, a lonely teenager with a serious phobia, who is regarded as an outsider by family and classmates because of his quirky and introverted behaviour. The story is narrated through his diary and the transcripts of police interviews with Greg's family and friends. The latter creates a sense of foreboding - you know something awful is looming, but the ending is still surprising. The novel is very disturbing in parts; the scene in the bedroom at the teenage party is particularly disquieting to read. But nevertheless, there is humour too, reminiscent of Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time' cross this with Lionel Shriver's 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' and you'll get a sense of the atmosphere created by James Rice. Greg's is a highly dysfunctional family and you can't help thinking that if his work-obsessed, philandering father and insecure mother had faced up to their son's issues earlier, and not sent him away to be cared for by his grandmother, things could have turned out very differently.
The quality of the writing impresses in this novel. - Judith B.
I *loved* this book - it's dark and sad in places, but very gripping and a fascinating insight into the life of a boy who sees and interacts with the world differently. Stays with you, and nothing is spelled out to you, so there's lots to think about and would make for a great reading group discussion.