July 4th marks Alice in Wonderland Day. Published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s work of nonsense remains a cornerstone of British literary culture for children and adults alike. In celebration of the weirdness and wonder of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we’ve collated a selection of fantasy reads from the Women’s Prize library that capture a similar spirit of adventure and magic.
Winner of the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction
Just as Alice tumbles into Wonderland, in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi we venture into a new world. The House consists of vast halls and vestibules and is filled with strange and beautiful statues and rising tides. To Piranesi, the House is home. That is until messages appear in chalk and cast doubt over everything he believes to be true.
Clarke effortlessly weaves a spellbinding mystery, creating an entirely compelling and convincing world that will stay with you long after turning the final page.
Shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction
Carroll’s taste for mythical animals – from the Jabberwock to the Gryphon – is mirrored in Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. Mr Hancock, a simple merchant, displays a ‘mermaid’, a small and disturbing creation that is neither real nor alive. While displaying this ‘mermaid’, Mr Hancock falls into the orbit of Angelica, an enticing courtesan, whom he makes his wife. The plot thickens when a real mermaid is caught near the Hebrides; as myth and reality intertwine, Gower demonstrates that entrapment takes many different forms.
Longlisted for the 2011 Women’s Prize for Fiction
In Jamrach’s Menagerie the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar and the White Rabbit are replaced with the tiger, elephant and camel. In Carol Birch’s 11th novel we meet Jaffy Brown, a young boy working under Mr Jamrach, who supplies exotic animals to collectors in London. Jaffy takes to the seas, following a wealthy animal collector in pursuit of dragons. As the journey grows increasingly perilous, Birch’s novel becomes both beguiling and horrifying. Jamrach’s Menagerie is a novel for those seeking magical realism and a splash of adventure.
Longlisted for the 2012 Women’s Prize for Fiction
The Night Circus tells the tale of a mysterious circus that arrives without warning under the cover of night. Le Cirque des Rêves offers spectacles that defy possibility, yet, in the background, a battle between two promising magicians, Celia and Marco, is taking place. As the stakes rise and the power of the circus grows, the novel raises questions about the sacrifices we are willing to make for survival, versus those we are willing to make for love.
The vivid imagery and evocative language in The Night Circus transport the reader, giving the novel a cinematic feel. A story of love, suspense and magic, this is an escapist read that captures the spirit of Alice in Wonderland.
Shortlisted for the 1997 Women’s Prize for Fiction
Alice fell down a rabbit hole; Amelia Earhart, however, went in the other direction. In Jane Mendelsohn’s vivid and lyrical novel, the famous aviator herself recounts the events of 1937, when she and Fred Noonan, her navigator, disappeared into the skies. Earhart describes her life and marriage to G.P. Putnam, before delving into the narrative of her flight around the world, which is portrayed as a stunt choreographed to maximise publicity.
Mendelsohn also paints a picture of the stranding of the pilot following her disappearance. Offering an enchanting take on an infamous mystery, I Was Amelia Earhart is an adventure story that takes us to the very top of this world, rather than down to Wonderland.
How many of these fantastical titles have you read? Feeling in the mood for something a little closer to earth? Check out some of our other recommended book lists, there’s something for everyone!