ALICE AND THE FLY is the debut novel from James Rice. Rice doesn’t write an easy page turner, he writes an often times tough look into mental illness, psychosis and its related stigma through Greg, an isolated teenager suffering from mental illness and a possible mysterious past. Kernel Fiona reviews this novel published by Hachette in Australia. It is out now at most book stores. If you like the book be sure to let James know on his Twitter – HERE. Enjoy Fiona’s review…..all the best….JK.





This book is misleadingly described as a story about phobias and obsessions. In actual fact, it is a detailed look at mental illness, in particular, psychosis and the stigma attached to it.

Teenager Greg Hall leads an isolated life haunted by his fear of THEM. It soon becomes apparent that he has arachnophobia. If he sees a live spider or if he hallucinates THEM into being, he is prone to fitting and bizarre scratching behaviour that generally results in raw, bleeding wounds. Known as the lisping “psycho” by his peers, he is ostracised at school and his part time job at a butcher’s because of his differences.

Lonely and friendless, Greg develops an intense interest in his red headed classmate, Alice. Initially, he thinks that the sunglasses Alice wears are merely a cool accessory. The truth turns out to be far more confronting.

Alice lives with her thug brother and her violent, alcoholic father in The Pitt – a crime- ridden socially disadvantaged suburb. Greg’s family live in the up-market suburb of Skipdale on the “right side of the tracks”. Greg’s father is a plastic surgeon with a roving eye, specialising in breast augmentation. His mother is a skittish socialite who self-medicates by frequently renovating the house and spending more and more money on exotic furnishings. Alice and Greg’s socio-demographics may be polar opposites but the two are united by their secrets and their shame.

The story is told through a series of journal entries written by Greg and transcripts of police interviews with various family members and Greg’s English teacher. The diary at times resembles the style of an unhinged Adrian Mole with Greg regaling his nightly bus trips to Alice’s house where he either stands out the front or hides in the garden shed, watching her. He talks about his love of old Hollywood movies and his admiration of their chaste and modest depiction of romance. While other teenage boys are out getting drunk and sowing their wild oats, Greg prefers to sit at home watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The reader is aware fairly early on that Greg has done something terrible and that after a family holiday on Finners Island, he was sent to live with his grandmother for a number of years. It becomes apparent that the something terrible involved a boating trip and his younger sister, Sarah. When his grandmother goes to live at the Golden Pines nursing home because of her own mental health problems, Greg is forced to return to his family, only to discover that he still doesn’t fit in.

His manic, spending-addicted mother is fixated on creating the illusion that the Halls live as a perfect family in the perfect home that is perfectly decorated. No matter what humiliations she suffers or crises that arise, she faces it all with a rigid perma-grin and a false cheeriness to rival any Stepford wife.

His father, emotionally unreachable, spends more time at work or visiting his mother in law’s empty house with various secretaries, than he does with the family. Enamoured as he is with breasts, his locked home office is filled with pictures of mammary glands and cleavage, Pamela Anderson posters and sculptures of boobs in all shapes and sizes.

Sister Sarah, although only in her early teens, is fast becoming a delinquent who stays out until the early hours, gets drunk and runs with a group of undesirables. While it’s clear that she has sympathy for her brother’s social isolation, she views him as a freak and makes a special effort to avoid associating with him at all costs.

The much anticipated New Year’ s Eve party that takes place at the home of one of Greg’s degenerate classmates, Goose, is the catalyst for a turning point in Greg’s previously contained demeanour. Before the book heads towards an inevitably tragic conclusion, we are taken to the under-age house party that is brutish and dystopian.

Drunken teenagers are recklessly letting off fireworks in the back yard, raping their unconscious class mates and vomiting and defecating all over the house. The sink in the upstairs bathroom is clogged with the contents of someone’s stomach and cigarette ends lay smouldering on furniture and in the carpets. When a group of uninvited Pitt delinquents show up, they storm the party like a pack of Clockwork Orange droogs. Hell bent on destruction, they come armed with baseball bats and set about smashing the house and its contents to smithereens.

James Rice does a realistic job of portraying the violent community that is The Pitt and deals quite deftly with issues such as bullying, alcoholism and domestic violence. On the flip side, he also manages to portray the ugly side of privileged households and competently exposes what lies beneath the façade of civility.

It does this book an injustice to label it a story about obsessions and phobias. Clearly Greg’s pre-occupation with THEM is a symptom of his illness and it is an illness that no one seems prepared to acknowledge. After he is diagnosed at age seven, his mother goes to great lengths to pretend that Greg is normal. The fact that she banishes him to her mother’s house after the ill-fated Finners Island holiday, suggests that she is ill-equipped to manage his disease and she later admits to the police that she felt she had to protect her other child, Sarah from Greg.

His well-meaning but ultimately misguided teacher, Miss Heywood, tells Greg that his pre-occupation with THEM is merely a symptom of anxiety and that his visual and auditory hallucinations are nothing more than “metaphorical phantoms”. Assuming the role of arm-chair psychiatrist, she does more harm than good in refusing to recognise the seriousness of Greg’s condition.

It is an indictment on his father that as a doctor, he fails to ensure Greg’s safety and the safety of others by choosing to ignore his son’s condition and carry on in a state of denial. It is not until Greg’s terrible destiny is revealed that his father shows an iota of insight or remorse.

This is not a light read. Although at times I felt it was glaringly obvious that this is a debut novel for Rice, it effectively offers interesting perspectives on mental illness and the significant consequences of ignoring and isolating its sufferers.


3 and a Half Pops


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