It's surprisingly rare nowadays to see such an honest creature as this in book form, given that it wears its raw intentions in its title and simple but effective cover. Yes, this is the time-honoured story of 'Alice in Wonderland', retold in the style of a punk zine with all the requisite irreverence, right from the 'Legal Bullshit' page that precedes the contents.
I know author Khurt Khave well, having co-founded the Arizona Penny Dreadfuls with him and a couple of lovely ladies, and this combines much of what I expected from him in a book titled 'Chainsaw Alice in Wonderland': not merely sex and violence in copious quantities, but also steampunk, tea duelling, Nicola Tesla, tentacle porn and the Cthulhu Mythos. After all, one of the most prominent characters in the book, Dirty Weasel, is only a mildly fictionalised version of the author's tea duelling persona, a legend in his own teatime, so this was always going to be surreal wish fulfilment shenanigans.
Readers of earlier Khave books such as 'Something with Blood in the Title' will recognise the punk zine approach which breaks up the text with a wild variety of images trawled from the public domain, many of them manipulated with satirical or merely subversive intent. Khave's punk poetry, all over that book, features here too, albeit in much reduced quantity, merely dotted around here and there.
What's new is the host of pseudoscientific gobbledegook to attempt a vague explanation of what's going on in a metaphysical sci-fi pulp adventure take on the story and some fun play with language in ways that are both adult in nature but childish in approach. To shift sideways into another Victorian children's classic, Khave writes rather like Peter Pan, the child who refuses to grow up but learns all about the adult world anyway.
Lewis Carroll wrote a satire in the form of a children's book and Khave retains that approach, albeit with less pointed satire and a schoolboy's attitude. Alice is cool, but she'd be a lot cooler with a chainsaw, right? What schoolboy wouldn't agree with that?
Khave throws everything but the kitchen sink into his demented subversion of a childhood classic with the tea party chapter epitomising this approach, with each page adding a new subversion. This version is set within the apocalyptic grounds of an insane asylum where the Mad Hatter uses Wonderland tea to date rape Alice on the table, only to be beaten by the Weasel both at tea duelling and with a baseball bat, which debauchery ends with a fairy queefing glitter over the landscape. This is the sort of thing that kids would adore as long as their parents don't have a clue what they're reading.
Technically, it's rough in the way that self-published books often are. There's no justification and paragraphs are indented too much. It's spellchecked but not proofed, as broken indents and incorrect spellings (but valid words) ably highlight. It's clearly unedited, as the first couple of chapters are notably awkward but it rapidly improves from there as Khave found his narrative flow and unleashed a wild imagination that has to be experienced to be believed.
The biggest success is surely Khave's play with language, which is as honest as the cover in that it's literally play. I could easily imagine some sections being braindumps of literary manipulation, often in dialogue as if the characters on the page are different manifestations of suggestions running through his head. He has a particular penchant for alliteration and portmanteau word creation, but also twists both sound and spelling for effect, appropriately enough given the source. He plunders 'Jabberwocky' as much as the dictionary for his vocabulary and takes it as a starting point for extrapolation.
Of course, this play is as delightfully inappropriate as everything else. I was rather taken by the jizzemental, hardly the cleverest portmanteau in the book but surely one of its most abiding images. There are many of these, for whom shock factor is more often than not an important component part. Just as you think you've read all that Khave's schoolboy imagination has to offer, he surprises you with something new.
What's important is that it's all done in fun, as much as it is in the holy name of bad taste. Even while tentacle raping a classic work of children's fiction, he somehow never loses respect for what made it so endearing to generations: its childlike wonder at the world, its playful approach to the English language and its unceasing faith in the power of innocence to change the world into whatever we want it to be.
Nowadays, it could be argued that more people know 'Alice' from an overdose of Disney's marketing and merchandising of its characters than from the actual books themselves, but Khave goes back to the source for those endearing traits that made it great, even while he visits a litany of vile and depraved treatments on its characters.
That a book so deliberately irreverent is so innately respectful is perhaps the most surprising thought to come to mind after finishing this debauched romp. I'm sure the Dodgson estate wouldn't find this remotely respectful and Disney would certainly have conniptions. It could be argued that the latter is more than enough recommendation on its own, but I'll add mine anyway.
If you're looking for family friendly entertainment or you're easily offended, this is certainly not the book for you. However if your dark side has a debauched sense of humour, you're likely to have a blast tagging along with Alice and her chainsaw. I'd love to see a film version of this, but while Tim Burton has tried to monopolise dark reinvention of the classics, this is much more suited to the style of Ralph Bakshi and, really, it wouldn't work in live action. It would need to be animated, probably by the Japanese, which would make the translation all the more surreal. ~~ Hal C F Astell
Click here for another reviewer’s viewpoint