Thompson, Alice

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Born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Education: Attended Oxford University; earned Ph.D., 1995.


Agent—c/o Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown Ltd., Haymarket House, 28-29 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4SP, England.


Author and educator. Served as writer-in-residence at Shetland, and St. Andrew's University, Scotland. Toured with the pop group "The Wooden-tops" during the 1980s.


James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, 1997, for Justine.


Killing Time (novella; bound with Simon Rees's Making a Snowman), Penguin Originals (London, England), 1990.

Justine (novel), Canongate Books (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1996, Counterpoint Press (Washington, DC), 1998.

Pandora's Box (novel), Little, Brown (London, England), 1998, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1999. Pharos: A Ghost Story, Virago Books (London, England), 2002, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2003.


Scottish author Alice Thompson writes books that delve into themes of identity, desire, and relationships, addressing the issue of how well one can truly know another person. Her first novel, Justine, for which she won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the oldest literary prize awarded in Scotland, tells the story of an unnamed man with an angelic face and a clubbed foot who falls in love with the woman depicted in a portrait hanging in his mother's house. He later meets the woman—Justine—as well as her twin sister, Juliette, whom he pursues romantically in an attempt to get closer to Justine. This leads to Juliette manipulating the narrator into murdering her former lover, Jack, who left her for Justine, and the narrator's eventual discovery that Juliette is Justine after all. Thompson pays homage to the like-titled works of the Marquis de Sade and Lawrence Durrell with her references to pain and the quartet of lovers. New York Times writer Jennifer Kornreich observed that "Justine's pseudo-feminist rationale for her cruelty isn't convincing, but it is amusing." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews commented that "while some will groan at its jejune, vapid, imitative clunkiness, others will be smitten by its psycho-feminist puzzlings and probings." In a review for the Observer, Ruth Padel remarked that it is "the beautifully spare, very visual writing in which Thompson's real strength lies. Simple cadences and touches of fresh observation bring alive the backdrop of London."

Pandora's Box recounts the story of Noah Close, a plastic surgeon who awakens one night to find a woman on his doorstep engulfed in flames. He puts out the fire and oversees her reconstructive surgeries, only to find that when he removes the bandages she is miraculously healed, though mute. Close falls in love with the woman, whom he names Pandora and looks upon as his wife. When Pandora disappears, Close's search for her leads to still more questions. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Thompson's work "profoundly spooky, elliptical and dreamlike," stating that the novel "may give readers long-term shivers." Eleanor J. Bader, in a piece for Library Journal, called the writing "spare, crisp, seductive," and referred to the novel as "bold yet enigmatic, scary yet somehow sweet."

Pharos: A Ghost Story is set on an island called Jacob's Rock off the coast of Scotland during the early nineteenth century. Cameron Black is a retired seaman who works as the lighthouse keeper on the island, along with his new assistant Simon. Their quiet existence changes when a young woman washes ashore, wearing only a locket. They nurse her to health, only to find that she has amnesia. The girl, dubbed Lucia, remains at the lighthouse and helps with many of the household chores, but suffers from visions and hallucinations that appear to be sparked by the island itself. Reviewing for the Boston Globe, Stephen King found the story confusing, calling it "a gaudy gothic music video of a novella that whirls with weirdness and doesn't make a lick of sense." He went on to state that "because Pharos is as short as it is, and as energetic as it is … I sort of liked it.… There is a touch of Cameron's mania in Thompson's writing as she winds her tale up with a couple of genuinely scary scenes." Isobel Montgomery, in a review for the Guardian observed that "Thompson lets unease seep slowly into the story," and a contributor to Kirkus Reviews called the book "a genuinely eerie tale, in a perfect setting and told with just the right amount of ambiguity."



Boston Globe, December 28, 2003, Stephen King, "The Turn of the Screwy," review of Pharos: A Ghost Story, section D, p. 6.

Guardian (Manchester, UK), December 21, 2002, Isobel Montgomery, review of Pharos, p. 30.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1998, review of Justine, p. 362; July 15, 2003, review of Pharos, p. 936.

Library Journal, April 1, 1998, Margaret A. Smith, review of Justine, p. 125; May 15, 1999, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Pandora's Box, p. 128.

New York Times, July 19, 1998, Jennifer Kornreich, review of Justine.

Observer, August 18, 1996, Ruth Padel, review of Justine, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1998, review of Justine, p. 53; May 10, 1999, review of Pandora's Box, p. 60.

Spectator, April 28, 1990, Ross Clark, "Town, Country, and Scotland," review of Killing Time, p. 29.

Times Literary Supplement, August 30, 1996, Robert Irwin, "The Young in One Another's Arms," review of Justine, pp. 22-23.


Fantastic Fiction Web site, (September 23, 2004), "Alice Thompson."

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