Review of ~ Zoje Stage – Wonderland

Wonderland is a chilling and captivating horror tale that follows the point of view perspective of Orla, a former formidable ballet dancer who never quite reached the lofty heights of stardom. After her retirement, Orla and her family choose to move away from their city home, relocating to a lovely new rural dwelling right in the middle of the woods. Orla has been the breadwinner for the family over many years, and now it’s her husband Shaw’s time to shine, with the move to the wilderness hopefully inspiring his artistic talents. He paints “surreal versions of things he’s photographed” and is smitten with their new farmhouse and their steps into nature, almost like something has been drawing him here. Making up the family unit with Orla and Shaw is their inquisitive and insightful nine-year-old daughter Eleanor Queen, and her younger brother Tycho who has a stuffed toy moose that he adores.

“As much as she’d tried to fully embrace the move – for her children’s sake, and because Shaw wanted it so very badly – a fear shadowed her that her urban family wasn’t suited to the wilds of nowhere.”

Wonderland by Zoje Stage

The four members of the Bennett family are the only characters in this novel. Interestingly, two of the characters are sensitive and in tune with nature, somehow able to link with the elements, spirits, or whatever otherworldly entity they soon realise surrounds their new property. The younger Tycho is heartwarmingly innocent and is always into something. I couldn’t stop myself smiling when he wanted to create a snow dragon. Then there is our narrator, who is often the only one who seems to be making logical and rational choices even when getting distressed and upset with the uncertainties and the “what on earth is going on”-ness of their situation. As readers, at certain times in Wonderland, we’re uncertain of Orla’s reliability and if events are only going on in her mind.

The novel features dark and magical surroundings. The house, the woods, the weather, peculiar animals, and the trees (which I pictured as extremely skeletal) share a lot of page time with the family and they’re all bizarre and intriguing in their own ways. Stage has an excellent and perhaps twisted imagination and this novel features supurb imagery throughout. There is one element in horror stories that is always a winner for me and that is featuring trees that seem to move, or have their own agenda, so that’s a plus for Wonderland’s final score.

I will be honest, some segments of Wonderland dragged and it was sometimes repetitive. Although this did add a sense of foreboding and trepidation, Orla searching for a family member in the house or the surrounding woods seemed to happen quite frequently and became a bit grating.

To summarise, Wonderland is a beautifully written, suspenseful, and often surprising novel that whisked me away from reality with its engrossing, magical qualities. Although I may be rating harshly, only scoring this a 7/10, I have a lot of respect for its uniqueness and wonderful imagery. It all wraps up neatly and in a rewarding fashion for readers who’ve been on this often uncomfortable journey of dread and desperation with Orla.

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