Ever been to see a film, sat through the first ten, fifteen minutes wondering where the story is going? This novel is a bit like that. It wasn’t until page seventy that the tension is turned up a notch and as the ratchet creaks so the pace increases and with it you find yourself wanting to read more. This is no bad book for a debut. Author James Rice, a Waterstones Employee, a book seller by trade, has obviously been reading those other books written as from an outsider’s perspective. No doubting the commercial potential nor even the novel angle that such books, this one certainly capture. As I said, I found it slow at first but sticking with was worth the effort. In many ways Alice and the Fly is a psychological thriller. A sort of modern day ‘psycho,’ (as the central protagonist is nicknamed) through whose eyes we see clearly revealed the phobias and obsessions that can afflict certain minds.
Greg is a boy afraid of THEM. Them being spiders. Real spiders and their tacky webs but also not so real ones. His fear is huge. It causes him to have seizures. Greg’s teacher spots the boys problems and then tries her level best to help him overcome them. It is this fear that has Miss Hayes ask him to stay behind school for an informal chat. That is Greg’s second, but not final problem. When he speaks he lisps and when he does so other kids mock him. Mrs Hayes suggests, seeing his dislike of saying anything to her at all, that he keeps a journal, puts all his issues down so that he can get them off his chest and onto paper where he can see how small in reality they are. Trouble is they aren’t. Small that is and by selecting Alice as his target to whom he writes so another set of issues manifest themselves. He starts to obsess about her home life, her dog, her brother, her father but most of all, Alice.
As debuts go this is a brave attempt and just different enough to the others mentioned above to make it count. Not only does Mister Rice write with great sympathy in the voice of Greg but he also reveals and exploits the many frailties of family life showing us a brutal father, a fractured marriage along with the central characters mental disorder.