Review: Wonderland by Zoje Stage

I make it a point to go in to most books knowing as little about them as possible. I like to know the genre, the age group it’s written for, and will read a basic blurb, but otherwise, I try to avoid a lot of info and all reviews until after I finish. I’m not the least bit concerned about the average rating on Goodreads or Litsy when I start a book. Wonderland was no different for me, and can I just say, having finished it: wow, there are some seriously mixed reviews for this one.

What it’s about:

From the Goodreads description:

The Bennett family – artist parents and two precocious children – are leaving their familiar urban surroundings for a new home in far upstate New York. They’re an hour from the nearest city, a mile from the nearest house, and everyone has their own room for the very first time. Shaw, the father, even gets his own painting studio, now that he and his wife Orla, a retired dancer, have agreed that it’s his turn to pursue his passion. But none of the Bennetts expect what lies waiting in the lovely woods, where secrets run dark and deep. Orla must finally find a way to communicate with – not just resist – this unknown entity that is coming to her family, calling to them from the land, in the earth, beneath the trees… and in their minds.

The description also says of the book ‘If Shirley Jackson wrote the The Shining, it might look like this…’

The Shining is an awesome book, and I adore Shirley Jackson, so I was thrilled to get an ARC of this book.

My thoughts:

It seems like I may be one of the few people who haven’t read Stage’s debut, Baby Teeth, yet, so I can’t compare the two books. I did find her writing to be fantastic: beautiful, richly detailed, at times lyrical, and so atmospheric. I was most definitely feeling some Shining vibes in the descriptions of the cold, natural world outside of the farmhouse, and Jackson’s influence was also present. I thought Stage executed the mounting suspense very well, and I found the reading of this novel unsettling in the best possible way.

The story is told first-person from the perspective of wife, mom and newly-retired ballet dancer, Orla. I got a lot of insight into Orla’s character and could definitely sympathize with her throughout. Her husband Shaw isn’t nearly as well fleshed-out as a character, nor are her slightly unusual children—but I believe that was on purpose to help ratchet up the dread, suspense, and wtf moments that this book does so well.

Parts of the book did seem a bit repetitive, especially the near-constant use of the daughter’s name (Eleanor Queen, which is never, ever shortened in the book). I think it was perhaps a few pages too long, as the end seems to sort of drag a bit, but I was still very surprised at a few points during the story, and the ending was perfectly ambiguous.

Overall, a solid, suspenseful psychological horror novel. It’s not super gory, and it’s also definitely not a fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride—more of a slow burn, so probably not for everyone. I definitely plan to circle back and read Baby Teeth, as I like what I’ve read from Zoje Stage.


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