“How do you carry on when your heart has been torn out? Like a rag doll whose seams had split and opened to expose the softness inside, Alice was completely undone and did not know how to mend herself.”
Run Alice Run traces the breaking points of a young girl’s heart and the ways in which each fracture moulds her into the woman she’s become at the novel’s start and end. We’re led through the tentative waltzes of Alice’s hopeful, turned hopeless, connections and attempts at life as she remembers the highs and lows of her hometown, her student and librarian days at the University of Birmingham and now her endlessly monochrome existence in Edinburgh.
Tracing the fault lines of her past, she questions how, in her fifties, she’s once again found herself in a police station on charges of shoplifting. We see how each fragment and splinter of herself, fashioned by the actions of others with the help of her own hands, have slowly morphed into defining characteristics, habits and triggers that Alice carries into each relationship, even her relationship to herself.
The novel’s temporalities seesaw between her present and past, with her memory holding the stitches together as her present self is aided by the haunting of a younger Alice. The transitions from the present to the past or dialogue between a woman and the ghost of herself may occasionally seem disjointed, throwing the reader off.
However, the interaction suggests the tenacious resilience and strength of a person and how we never truly lose our former selves, even if we sometimes end up carrying them as the “unsettling emotional luggage” of a time marked with pain that we wish to forget. The reader sees the poignant moments where Alice’s life fully knocks her to her knees, yet the four heart-breaking incidences that leave her lost and numb within herself all serve as catalysts for her final dénouement – freedom.
Lynn Michell’s character demonstrates a wilful preservation of self mixed with a frustrating coercion into previously expected roles of women, expectations driven by societal norms, yet equally supported, dutifully abided by or even accepted due to a woman’s perception of herself.
One of the four horsemen of Alice’s life, Oliver, notes her thesis’ use of “subtext,” a topic closely related to his own sociological interests “in what people don’t say as much as what they do. Body language tells a quite different story from the spoken word…” and in Alice’s case this is all too true. In the face of societal pressures, expectations and norms, particularly norms for women to marry, mother and manage it all, Alice finds herself trapped in the superwoman complex and forgetting that it is ok to not be ok and more importantly to voice this when it is so, rather than letting it dangle in the subtext of her ever quietening, withering; retreating self.
Nowadays, complacency often overcoats the topic of gender inequality when we seem to have more equality than ever before and it’s easy to forget just how recently a woman’s place was still considered within the home, raising children, cooking and cleaning and not questioning her husband’s actions, even when they were terribly wrong. Alice falls suspect to this over and over again as she attempts to fit other people’s templates of how she should be, desperately trying to be right, but right for whom? Everyone, but herself. We see her struggle to fit the mould, yet equally resist through tiny rebellions of self-destructive behaviour, fighting off the “waves of anonymity” that suffocate her.
People (in Alice’s case four men) can – for lack of a better word – suck, but what is more alarming is how we let them make us suck too. Alice learns how people will bring her down to their level, their benchmark, within which she can never win because it is not her own.
Yet, after years of experience, the dualistic narrative of her past and present relaying of temporalities, spaces, and mind-sets intertwine with her conclusory desire and driving force for freedom – the most priceless essence of humanity and one she never realised how fully she had lost, until she no longer had it.
Liberation is tackled, fought and wrestled in all arenas within the novel’s predominantly male-dominated society where Alice struggles to find a space for herself. Nonetheless, tracing the footsteps of her past leads her to the positive, yet daunting, choice of freedom – she decides to save herself, for herself. No longer will she stick her head in the sand and simply accept things the way they are, choosing rebellious acts like shoplifting to ease the simmering tension of her discontent, but never truly lashing out at the real sources. Alice decides on the best revenge – to put herself first, fight for herself and succeed in living life her own way, on her own terms.
When observing Alice’s state of existence, chronic is a word that dances upon the tip of my tongue, a loaded word with excruciating meaning known only too well to Lynn Michell, the dedicated writer of this novel, creator of Linen Press and tenacious battler of ME. Any state of chronic suffering, even that of the inertia of a lifeless existence in Alice’s case, treads the draining, exhausting lines between being alive and simply surviving, always looking over the precipice and wondering if you will make it.
Ultimately, we all go off our rails sometimes, but it is how we get back on them that matters.
About the publisher:
Inspired Quill is a not-for-profit publishing house which describes itself as dedicated to quality publications and providing a people-oriented platform for authors to develop their skills both in writing, marketing and self-editing. They value a collaborative approach with their authors throughout the process from submission to launch, endeavouring to produce unique and powerful pieces of work.
Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley
Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing.