Book Review: Alice and the Fly

Thursday 18 December 2014 by

Alice and the Fly, James Rice, Hodder & Stoughton, BookAlice and the Fly by James Rice

Published by Hodder & Stoughton

Publishes 15th January 2015

This is a book about phobias and obsessions, isolation and dark corners. It’s about families, friendships, and carefully preserved secrets. But above everything else it’s about love. Finding love – in any of its forms – and nurturing it.

Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition’s caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I’ll flood out all these tears and it’ll all be ok and I won’t be scared of Them anymore. The truth is I can’t think of any single traumatic childhood incident to tell her. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories – Herb’s death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah – but none of these are what caused the phobia. I’ve always had it. It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.


I discovered Alice and the Fly through spotting a conversation on Twitter, and couldn’t resist requesting a proof copy.

Alice and the Fly comes from debut novelist James Rice, and is described as a “beautiful, haunting, darkly funny and uncomfortably genuine story and, according to James, at least partly autobiographical”.

The first thing that struck me from reading the first few pages is how little the blurb actually gives away. This is a story of a young boy, who is severely bullied and also suffers from two major setbacks as a teenager: an inability to speak to others (he’s virtually mute), and crippling arachnophobia.

But amongst the spiders and the bouts of bullying and the unloving family, there is one good thing in Greg’s life: Alice.

He doesn’t really know Alice (and she knows him even less), but that doesn’t stop him writing letters to her, which make up the majority of this book.

It was not the light-hearted read I was expecting. It is darkly comic in many respects (Greg’s voice is a powerful one, with a wry sense of humour and brilliant sense of comic timing; I chuckled out loud once or twice). But it is also just dark. Greg’s experience of school is devastating, and it makes my heart ache. His desperate need for affection is almost overwhelming, and you grow a certain protective hatred for anyone who hurts him. You feel nicer towards Alice, although you are painfully conscious that his image of her is likely nothing like the real Alice.

The awful conclusion is implied throughout the book with police transcripts, but its eventual appearance is no less intense. It is artfully done.

I was hugely impressed with this. As a debut novel, it is an enormous, powerful, punchy story with the perfect balance of grit and entertainment. It’s been a while since I read something that has had this much power. Rice is a clever writer, with enough wits about him to build strong characters and plot, without dividing attention from either.

If there was any criticism, it would be that it felt so claustrophobic – the narrative was too close to Greg, and I often felt I was missing great slabs of the story that I should have had. But if that’s the biggest criticism I have? … Watch the name James Rice. He’s going to be huge.

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  1. It was the beautiful cover that suckered me in on this one – such a wonderful design. James Rice is definitely an author to watch too – I was lucky enough to run an interview with him recently (Interview with James Rice) and he had some interesting things to say. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

    • Fran

      Thanks for sharing the interview! I really loved this book, and can’t wait to read his next book.

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