‘Alice in Sunderland is very much like the original novels,’ said Professor Terry Eagleton. ‘It might be grittier and racier, but it contains the same trademark cast of unbelievable characters performing inexplicably bizarre pastimes. I don’t think I’d be spoiling the ending for the readers to say that the things they will witness in these pages could only have happened in a dream.’
As with Carroll’s first novel, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, the action begins with the young heroine lazing by a river one summer afternoon. ‘Only this time Alice is a teenager and she’s spread-eagled on a bench beside the River Wear, her soporific state explained by the two dozen empty bottles of WKD and vodka whose DRINK ME labels she had no choice but to obey.’
With an air of unreality common to all Carroll’s novels, Alice is then led into a strange and beguiling place, Sunderland town centre, by an oddly-dressed white rabbit – her classmate Chantelle who is late for her shift as a bunny girl at the Blu Bambu nightclub. Here she witnesses all sorts of bizarre goings on, including men wearing short sleeves in January, people urinating in shop doorways and, in celebration of the city’s victory over Middlesbrough in the local derby, sporadic outbreaks of singing and violence.
After accepting a mushroom from a stranger in a bar, Alice then meets a host of mythical creatures, including a miner and a shipbuilder with whom she forms such a strong bond in the High Street in the early hours of the morning that all three are arrested on public decency charges. In the novel’s final scene Alice pleads with magistrates for her trial to be dismissed on the grounds that ‘all persons a mile high should leave court’, but she is taken away to a police cell where she eventually wakes from her reverie.
‘To outsiders the whole episode will look fantastical and other-worldly, but the author’s skill is that it has the certain but unfathomable logic of a dream,’ said Professor Eagleton. He is now continuing his search for the rumoured sequel to Alice Through the Looking Glass describing a hen weekend in Gateshead.