Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
This is The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury. Alice Pendelbury is living a nice life: she has a close circle of friends, one of whom, Anton, is quite taken with her and would like to be more to her. She makes a relatively stable, if not overly comfortable living, following her passion working as a “nose” developing perfumes, and she is independent, living in post-war England on her own.
One night, while out with friends, Alice is encouraged to have her fortune read by a fortune teller at a bazaar. Alice doesn’t believe in fortune tellers, but caves in to her friends’ insistence. She is told that she has two lives: the one she knows and another one. She is not English, as she believes, but rather from somewhere totally different, and there is a man waiting for her in this other place–Istanbul–who will be lost to her forever if she does not journey there to find him. In fact, he will be one of six people she will meet that will help her discover who she really is.
Alice is disturbed by the message, but she dismisses it as silly and irrational. She goes back to her apartment, where her grouchy neighbor Mr. Daldry lives across the hall. Up until now, he has been the neighbor who only talked to her to complain about her friends being there too late, making too much noise, and inconveniencing him.
But the next few days, which happen to be the Christmas holiday, find both of them alone, and a new friendship is forged between Daldry and Alice. She confides in him about the fortune teller’s message, and as improbable as it seems, he encourages her to take the woman’s message to heart and go on the voyage to Turkey. Alice’s friend Carol does the same, and then Daldry even agrees to finance the trip and escort Alice for part of the way.
Even though Alice has doubts and fears, she decides to do it–although I don’t know that she would have if Daldry had not financed the trip and agreed to go with her–and ends up going to places that seem familiar to her, even though she has no recollection or reason to believe she’s ever been there.
This was part of the mystery of the book for me, and with each chapter and new phase of her journey, I wanted to keep reading more, as I got to experience new places and things through Alice’s eyes, and “watch” the interactions between her and Daldry, who is obviously more worldly and well-traveled than she is, despite being a starving artist type.
One of the things I most liked about this book is that all the characters are likeable and smart, and they all really rally around their friend Alice. I also liked the fact that the author didn’t make them flat or completely one-sided: there were contradictions between the way they are initially drawn and then their actions, and that is also true in real life.
For example, Alice visits the fortune teller even though she doesn’t believe in them; she goes on the trip to Istanbul even though her rational self thinks it’s a crazy idea; Daldry befriends the girl across the hall, even though in the beginning he is more annoyed by her than wanting to be her friend; and her friend Carol, who is quite protective of her, also tells her to throw caution to the wind and go.
And then there is the journey–the traveling and places very well described by the author, yet in a way that is not cumbersome, overdone, or boring.
This is a great read for anyone hunkering for a really good story, with characters you can like and identify with, and one that forces you to accept that not everything can be explained rationally or concretely, and sometimes you have to let some of that magic in, in order to move your life forward in a new or better direction.
And sometimes it’s the journey, not the expected or anticipated outcome, that makes all the difference and takes you someplace completely different than where you were going.