Alias Grace: A Novel Info

Check Reviews and find answers for biographies of leaders, outstanding people and big historical figures. Before downloading your favorite book see our picks for the best biographies and memoirs of 2019. Read&Download Alias Grace: A Novel by Margaret Atwood Online


In Alias Grace, the bestselling author of The
Handmaid's Tale
 takes readers into the life of one of the most
notorious women of the nineteenth century—recently adapted into a
6-part Netflix original mini-series by director Mary Harron and
writer/actress Sarah Polley.

It's 1843, and Grace Marks has
been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her
employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is
innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence,
Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. An up-and-coming expert
in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of
reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to
her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot
remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories?
Captivating and disturbing, Alias Grace showcases
bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood at the peak of
her powers.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Alias Grace: A Novel:

5

Nov 19, 2017

”All the same, Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you. It has a smell to it, that word---musky and oppressive, like dead flowers in a vase. Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.”


Sketches made of Grace Marks and James McDermott during their sensationalized trial.

Grace Marks, at the age of 16 in 1843, was arrested along with James McDermott for the murders of their employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his ”All the same, Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you. It has a smell to it, that word---musky and oppressive, like dead flowers in a vase. Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.”


Sketches made of Grace Marks and James McDermott during their sensationalized trial.

Grace Marks, at the age of 16 in 1843, was arrested along with James McDermott for the murders of their employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his mistress/housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. The murders were rather sensationalized in Canadian society, what with the cold blooded brutality and the fact that a young, rather beautiful, young woman was involved. McDermott was sentenced to hang, while Marks was saved from the gallows by the spirited defence of her lawyer. She spent the next thirty years of her life incarcerated, first in an asylum and then in a prison.

This story really picked up several years later when Doctor Simon Jordan decided to make a study of her and hoped to unlock some of her missing memories.

See, there were key elements that she didn’t remember about that day that would help him to determine if she was truly a murderess or merely an unwilling accomplice. Jordan was struck by her from the very first moment he met her.

”Her eyes were unusually large, it was true, but they were far from insane. Instead they were frankly assessing him. It was as if she were contemplating the subject of some unexplained experiment; as if it were he, and not she, who was under scrutiny.”

And then there was this observation of Grace by Jordan, as well:

”She’s thinner now, less full in the face; and whereas the picture shows a pretty woman, she is now more than pretty. Or other than pretty. The line of her cheek has a marble, a classic, simplicity; to look at her is to believe that suffering does indeed purify.”



“Other than pretty” implied further depths to her beyond just the surface beauty that captured the imagination of a ghoulish public. He might not know it, but he was already smitten with Grace and in danger of tumbling head over heels in love with her. It is hard to keep control of a series of interviews if you have become interested in more than just the deeds of the individual. As an added distraction every mother in Toronto with a daughter was trying to manufacture ways to throw their pretty daughters in front of this very eligible bachelor.

He was a doctor after all.

”As one season’s crop of girls proceeds into engagement and marriage, younger ones keep sprouting up, like tulips in May. They are now so young in relation to Simon that he has trouble conversing with them; it’s like talking to a basketful of kittens.”

They were fresh, so new they were barely out of the packaging of their youth, and of course virginal. What every man should desire,...right? Well, if one doesn’t mind vacuousness.

As fascinating as Grace’s story is, I found myself becoming even more engrossed with the story of Dr. Simon Jordan and his desire driven demons. His landlady, whose husband had absconded on a bout of debauchery, was also proving to be a damsel in distress as her only source of income became her one lodger. ”Her face is heart-shaped, her skin milky, her eyes large and compelling; but although her waist is slender, there is something metallic about it, as if she is using a short length of stove-pipe instead of stays. Today she wears her habitual expression of strained anxiety; she smells of violets, and also of camphor.”

She was a beauty past her prime, but still she was compellingly sexy. He felt this attraction against his will. There was no hope for a relationship. She was married and too old to ever be acceptable to his family or his class. He was supposed to marry one of those inane, young ladies. ”It would be one way of deciding his fate, or settling his own hash; or getting himself out of harm’s way. But he won’t do it; he’s not that lazy, or weary; not yet.” I can’t help, but think of Newland Archer from The Age of Innocence, who allowed himself to be trapped into what was expected of him, as well. What if Archer had escaped with Countess Olenska?

I still pine for him to escape.

So even though the landlady was forbidden, bruised fruit, he couldn’t help, but notice that...“Her lips are full, but fragile, like a rose on the verge of collapse.”

This was one of the many times when I had to read a Margaret Atwood line many times, rolled it around the surface of my tongue, so that I could taste the sweet, the bitter, and the savory of that beautifully written line.

Dr. Jordan was starting to have odd thoughts and unsettling dreams of murders committed by himself. He started digging in the garden under the pretense of planting a garden, but it seemed, even to his subconscious self, that he was loosening the soil for...the corpse of his landlord if he should return or maybe a stack of bodies of those from which he wished to escape. It would put him on an equal footing with one particular woman. ”Murderess, murderess, he whispers to himself. It has an allure, a scent almost. Hothouse gardenias. Lurid, but also furtive. He imagines himself breathing it as he draws Grace toward him, pressing his mouth against her. Murderess. He applies it to her throat like a brand.”

This novel is based on the true story of Grace Marks. History lost track of her once she was released from prison after nearly thirty years of incarceration. No tombstone is known to mark her grave. She simply vanished into the woodwork of a new America. Atwood has not only brought her to life, but has seamlessly and creatively put words of putty and glue into the missing pieces. I wonder every time I finish an Atwood why I don’t read her more frequently.


Sarah Gadon plays Grace Marks in the series

Netflix has recently launched the first season of a new show based on Alias Grace. It spurred me to get this book read that I had planned to read three years ago. I was wooed by other more pressing books, and what a fool I was. I don’t know how I feel about watching the series. I’m as sure that it is good as I am sure that it will disappoint. I will eventually work up the courage to watch it, but I think I will luxuriate in reverence for the book for a while.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten ...more
5

Apr 12, 2014

Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor...

Highlight of 2017 for me!
A pure gem. That is Alias Grace, for me. Another grand work of Margaret Atwood. Atwood, described as ‘one of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive’ (Literary Review)……and also: ‘A witty, elegant, generous and patient writer.’ I would say a strong-minded, self-willed, wayward writer, sometimes also dark and ruthless. This story keeps you hooked Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor...

Highlight of 2017 for me!
A pure gem. That is Alias Grace, for me. Another grand work of Margaret Atwood. Atwood, described as ‘one of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive’ (Literary Review)……and also: ‘A witty, elegant, generous and patient writer.’ I would say a strong-minded, self-willed, wayward writer, sometimes also dark and ruthless. This story keeps you hooked from beginning to end, following Grace Marks in her troubled life. A colourful, multifaceted and intriguing story, that keeps you reading for more than 500 pages….
This is how Atwood describes the story outline in her Author’s Afterword, which I recommend everyone to read in full:
About Grace is a work of fiction, although it is based on reality. Its central figure, Grace Marks, was one of the most notorious Canadian women of the 1840s, having been convicted of murder at the age of sixteen. The Kinnear-Montgomery murders took place on July 23, 1843, and were extensively reported not only in Canadian newspapers but in those of the United States and Britain. The details were sensational: Grace Marks was uncommonly pretty and also extremely young. Nancy Montgomery had previously given birth to an illegitimate child and was Thomas Kinnear’s mistress; at her autopsy she was found to be pregnant. Grace and her fellow servant James McDermott had run away to the US together and were assumed by the press to be lovers…..The trial was held in early November. Only the Kinnear murder was tried. …. McDermott was hanged in front of a huge crowd on November 21, but opinion about Grace was divided from the start and due to the efforts of her lawyer and a group of respectable gentlemen petitioners –who pleaded her youth, the weakness of her sex and her supposed witlessness her sentence was commuted to life…. She continued to be written about over the course of the century, and she continued to polarize opinion. Attitudes towards her reflected contemporary ambiguity about the nature of women: was Grace a female fiend and temptress, the instigator of the crime and the real murderer of Nancy Montgomory, or was she an unwilling victim, forced to keep silent by McDermott’s threats and by fear of her own life? ….

So this story takes you in more than 500 pages in a quiet pace through the life of Grace… and a variety of characters surround her in the progress of the story. Including the fascinating Dr. Jordan, who comes into play to assess Grace and in that process we witness his struggle and moral decline….As Atwood says in her afterword: she stayed with the historical facts, but there were gaps there or unclarities/various versions and in that case she took the liberty to fill those gaps in.

What can I say. I think Atwood is a true artist – solid writing – sharp observations – great writing. What more can I want? 5 stars and highly recommended. I'm a fan (was already, now it's official :-)) ...more
5

Dec 04, 2012





Working with patches. Patchwork. Putting together various pieces of material that already existed and joining them into a new design.

This is the theme that Margaret Atwood has developed through her novel, and I am not making this up for the sake of my review. Her concluding paragraphs, spoken by her heroine, are about the patched Tree of Paradise.

The Tree itself is of triangles, in two colours, dark for the leaves and a lighter colour for the fruits; I am using purple for the leaves and red for



Working with patches. Patchwork. Putting together various pieces of material that already existed and joining them into a new design.

This is the theme that Margaret Atwood has developed through her novel, and I am not making this up for the sake of my review. Her concluding paragraphs, spoken by her heroine, are about the patched Tree of Paradise.

The Tree itself is of triangles, in two colours, dark for the leaves and a lighter colour for the fruits; I am using purple for the leaves and red for the fruits.

And so Atwood constructed her fiction. She has taken fragments from a past reality, from a crime committed in the Canada of the 1840s. The unifying thread is the fictionalized account of Grace Marks, one of the two people convicted for a double murder. The other person accused was hanged, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison. Through her novel Atwood has called her to live again--in fiction. Thanks to her stitches.

Using this textual thread, one spun out of the materials of memory and invention, Atwood has joined many other pieces. Some add colour and veracity, for she includes fragments from newspapers – for as this became a famous case, a plethora of texts narrated this event before Atwood did – as well as extracts from the written confessions by Marks herself, or from letters written by real life figures such as the Medical Superintendent of the Asylum where Marks was interned, or from the Diary of the Warden of the Penitentiary where Marks spent the early part of her sentence.

Other fragments included add a different tonality and ingenuity. Stanzas from poems, sonnets, stanzas and tragedies interspersed here and there add insight and sensitivity. This crafty use of lyrical and dramatic elements appeal to our fancies and sharpen our awareness, and the overall effect is new and compelling.

And as we notice Atwood’s abilities in working with patches, we recognized her literary artistry and her understanding of the powers of fiction. When stories are woven they are nothing at all, but when they are finished, with all their parts sewn together, they become what they are. Not surprisingly is Scheherezade invoked in the novel. For stories, mixing truths and falsities acquire the nature of something else. They are not too different from the Tree of Paradise, the tree of Life and of Good&Evil.


...more
5

Jun 10, 2018

‘’...and the real curse of Eve was having to put up with the nonsense of Adam, who as soon as there was any trouble, blamed it all on her.’’

Grace is a murderess. She collaborated with her coworker to kill their master and his mistress. So the people say. So the people want to believe. Because, let’s face it, where’s the fascination in a murder committed only by a man? There’s no sensation, nothing to stir the crowds. Whereas a woman who took a life? Well, there’s the spectacle! Never mind that ‘’...and the real curse of Eve was having to put up with the nonsense of Adam, who as soon as there was any trouble, blamed it all on her.’’

Grace is a murderess. She collaborated with her coworker to kill their master and his mistress. So the people say. So the people want to believe. Because, let’s face it, where’s the fascination in a murder committed only by a man? There’s no sensation, nothing to stir the crowds. Whereas a woman who took a life? Well, there’s the spectacle! Never mind that she may be innocent. This is a perfect chance to humiliate women, to place the blame on them and continue the tradition that started at the beginning of time...But Grace knows the truth. Or does she?

Margaret Atwood takes the story of one of the most famous female prisoners of the 19th century and weaves a masterpiece of a novel. Set in the 1840s in Canada and spanning almost 30 years, this is a confession and a fascinating journey to the mind and the life of a woman who has much to say and even more to hide. Is she a criminal? An innocent bystander? A cold-blooded killer? Is she a victim of her weak will? A small animal captured in a man’s well-constructed trap? And does anyone want to actually listen to her? When a young psychiatrist decides to dive into the darkest part of Grace’s mind, everything will change.

This is a novel that I consider perfect on every level. I’ve always believed that the finest writers can give us the conclusion at the beginning of the story and we’ll still be interested and invested in the development of the action. This is exactly what happens here. While Atwood doesn’t reveal everything at once, we have all the proper materials to ‘’guess’’ the end and there is still much space for suspense, agony and, speaking strictly for me, anger. Anger was the feeling that became my loyal companion while I was reading. Anger because of the double-standards of the time, the conviction that a woman is guilty by definition when accused, the habit of regarding women as objects for the men’s pleasure, ripe for the taking...And if we come to think of it, these notions are still alive today, in our so-called advanced era when many believe that gender equality is all done and dealt with and achieved. No, when I feel frightened each time I walk down a darkly-lit alley, each time a man sideglances at me, gender equality doesn’t exist. Forgive me if I digress but fury comes swiftly when I think that in many parts of our planet tyranny and violence against women are considered the norm, they are alive and kicking and they will never stop. And where do most of these false notions come from? Prejudice, superstition, religious fundamentalism.

‘’...and the people there love to fall down in fits, and talk in tongues and be saved once a summer, or more if available…’’

Jeremiah, one of the most enigmatic characters of the story, provides an excellent and extremely accurate description of the absurd religious panic that inflicts people of every race and every religion. The pious, God-fearing citizens look upon men to save them and are all too willing to believe in the condemnation of women. What I enjoyed in the way this theme is delivered in Alias Grace is that Atwood inserts the influence of such stereotypes in the field of Science as well. Educated men aren’t immune to prejudice and they attempt to research Grace’s case with preconceived notions in their heads. Enter Simon, the young psychiatrist who tries a different approach to understand the incidents and the tribulations inside Grace’s soul. In the process, he finds much more than he expected. I loved the way Atwood uses the newly-born ideas of Mesmerism and Magnetism and the rising of Spiritualism that became in vogue a few years later. In addition, she addresses the issue of Hysteria, the common belief that all women were prone to uncontrollable, violent fits of rage, another token of a society that refused to believe that women are actual human beings with the right to seek sexual pleasure and fulfillment. God forbid, these are principles solely belonging to men….

It’s hard not to get political when it comes to Atwood’s brilliant novels. Grace’s background is a highly troubled one. She comes from Ulster, an extremely tormented area, and becomes an immigrant to escape a country that is dying from famine and oppression. Furthermore, Canada is still shaking from the 1837 uprising and the aristocracy has become even more intolerant and cruel to those that are considered ‘’low’’ and ‘’uneducated heathens’’. In this historical and political context, we can understand how crucial are the themes Atwood addresses and how relevant they are, especially now. The gap between the wealthy and the poor, the discriminations against women, the blind faith.

Grace is a complex, intriguing character. In my opinion, she retains characteristics of the Unreliable Narrator because are we actually certain that her views on events and people are accurate? She comes across as a very sympathetic, level-headed, brave, considerate, dignified woman. She’s not afraid to express mistrust or uncertainty and has the self-discipline to keep her most ‘’controversial’’ thoughts secret until the opportune moment. Atwood takes us into Grace’s mind before she speaks and succeeds in creating a complete picture of our heroine. However, there is still an aura of mystery surrounding her and a strange, underlying sensuality and dark innocence.

Apart from Grace, we have two male characters that are equally interesting and mysterious. Simon and Jeremiah. Simon is very complex, in my opinion. Very real and perplexing. He is not free from his own demons, he has some fairly obscure ideas about sexual pleasure but he desires progress and knowledge. He has travelled extensively and believes he has all the necessary means to tackle Grace’s strange case. However, he isn’t prepared enough for what is about to come. Simon gave me much trouble as I was trying to understand him and realise his motives. He is mysterious and there is definitely a darkness inside him so he is an excellent counterpart of Grace. Jeremiah is a walking riddle. A man of the world, a magnetic presence, an enigma.

This review may come across as passionate or even politically incorrect but when books make you feel so many powerful emotions after reading a few chapters, you know they have succeeded. When the author is Margaret Atwood you know you are in the safest hands possible. This is a classic, a novel that should definitely be included in the finest of the 20th century. Oh, and certain misogynists/trolls/pseudo-scholars that have been lurking on GR lately, better stay away from Atwood’s novels, like The Handmaid’s Tale or Alias Grace. They will prove bad for you sensitive moral values and blood pressure….

“What is believed in society is not always the equivalent of what is true; but as regards to a woman's reputation, it amounts to the same thing.”

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word... ...more
4

Feb 05, 2019

‘if we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.’

the year is 1843 and grace marks has been arrested and convicted for her alleged involvement in two murders. she is only 16 years old and will spend the next 29 years incarcerated.

but what would possess a young girl to commit such a crime? and why did she give three conflicting confessions of what happened? was it a crime of passion or unfortunate circumstances?

the answers to these questions is exactly what dr. jordan hopes to ‘if we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.’

the year is 1843 and grace marks has been arrested and convicted for her alleged involvement in two murders. she is only 16 years old and will spend the next 29 years incarcerated.

but what would possess a young girl to commit such a crime? and why did she give three conflicting confessions of what happened? was it a crime of passion or unfortunate circumstances?

the answers to these questions is exactly what dr. jordan hopes to discover. as the doctor prompts graces memories, the reader is immersed in a story surrounded by sex, violence, and insubordination, with the uncomfortable realisation that not everything is so black and white.

atwood is a very thorough storyteller. its evident by reading this that atwood has exhausted all sources when researching grace marks and that tragic day in history. and whilst the subject matter is hauntingly gripping, my only complaint it this is a little dry. its a long exposé of graces character and is very slow at times (especially when recounting her early life), almost to the point where i become emotionally deattached from everything that was happening.

but i cant deny that this dramatic tale is thought-provoking, as much as it is entertaining. its a definite must read for those who enjoy the true crime of historical fiction.

↠ 3.5 stars ...more
5

Jun 24, 2014

"If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged."

When I first read Alias Grace, I thought it was "less" relevant than her other, almost prophetically painful novels. I changed my mind. Not immediately, and not deliberately. But slowly, steadily, like a patchwork taking form, I could see the novel in a new light long after I finished it. It grew in my memory as it faded, and all of a sudden, it occurred to me that it was a masterpiece of quiet rebellion where the other novels, "If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged."

When I first read Alias Grace, I thought it was "less" relevant than her other, almost prophetically painful novels. I changed my mind. Not immediately, and not deliberately. But slowly, steadily, like a patchwork taking form, I could see the novel in a new light long after I finished it. It grew in my memory as it faded, and all of a sudden, it occurred to me that it was a masterpiece of quiet rebellion where the other novels, like the Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, the Penelopiad or Cat's Eye are angry, eloquently shouted manifestos.

What is sanity? That painful interregnun between phases of blissful insanity, as Poe wittily claims, or the opinion of the (insane) majority? What is murder? What is guilt? How can one determine what really happened if all people involved in the action live in different minds, meaning different realities? How do we establish "truth" in the tangle of myths, passions, prejudices and conventions?

As always, we solve the mystery of a story by telling another, and Margaret Atwwod seemed to define my journey as a reader long before I knew what I was reading myself:

"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else." ...more
3

Dec 21, 2009

I felt about Alias Grace the same way I did about probably half of Atwood's novels I've read so far - I just didn't fully get it.

Nobody conveys Life ain't easy for a woman message as well as Atwood. Past, present, future - the living is rough for women. It is particularly unpleasant for Grace Marks, a young servant girl in mid-19th century Canada, accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper with the help of her co-worker and alleged paramour, and who is locked up first in an insane I felt about Alias Grace the same way I did about probably half of Atwood's novels I've read so far - I just didn't fully get it.

Nobody conveys Life ain't easy for a woman message as well as Atwood. Past, present, future - the living is rough for women. It is particularly unpleasant for Grace Marks, a young servant girl in mid-19th century Canada, accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper with the help of her co-worker and alleged paramour, and who is locked up first in an insane asylum and then prison. Atwood finds a way to explore plenty of issues from a feminist standpoint here - poverty, servitude, sexual repression, violence, insanity - and does is marvelously.

What didn't work for me was Grace's story itself. Evidently, this real-life criminal case got a lot of attention back in a day. Was Grace a cunning murderess? Or did her supposed lover force her to participate in this gruesome crime? Did she make up her convenient memory loss?

People speculated about this 150 years ago without coming to any definitive conclusion. Atwood doesn't give any answers in her fictionalized version either. After establishing Grace's character so well, the author failed in my eyes to come up with a convincing solution to the mystery, or a believable motivation for either scenario. If Grace was in fact the evil murderess, why did she desire to kill her master? And if her co-conspirator was in charge, what was his reason? I never understood this.

I appreciate ambiguity on fiction, but what is the point of reconstructing a crime, examining it if you do not give any opinion as to what actually took place? Frustrating. ...more
5

May 22, 2012

I keep kicking myself for having ditched the Atwood Speaking Gala at A.W.P. in Chicago this year. The fierce literati kept the attendance so high that it was virtually as if Lady Gaga herself were to give a lecture on her impressive work. I was more interested in walking all around Chitown, anyway, but I really (semi)regret not having nabbed a coveted seat. She was probably amazing: uberclever & brilliant.

Without two minor (teeny) infractions, “Alias Grace” is pretty much a well-rounded, I keep kicking myself for having ditched the Atwood Speaking Gala at A.W.P. in Chicago this year. The fierce literati kept the attendance so high that it was virtually as if Lady Gaga herself were to give a lecture on her impressive work. I was more interested in walking all around Chitown, anyway, but I really (semi)regret not having nabbed a coveted seat. She was probably amazing: uberclever & brilliant.

Without two minor (teeny) infractions, “Alias Grace” is pretty much a well-rounded, totalizing, COMPLETE novel—one which paints a full world with such realistic colors that the reader quickly forgets that the plot actually comes from the 1850’s Annals of Canadian Crime. Before I start extolling it madly, let me quickly state what those two “minor infractions” are: Grace’s 1st-person accounts are not completely authentic-sounding; they are far too articulate and intelligent—symbols become too clearly presented to the reader (who should feel slightly MORE confused, as psyches are often deep chasms) as the author’s own signature is made overly-clear in Grace’s own declarations (Atwood adds on her character’s openly-questionable credibility pretty early on, to her credit). Also, there is this feeling that without that added spice of changing POV’s and tenses, the plot would have been banal & tedious—the middle indeed sags, but the conclusion, the last 80 pages of it, is ultimately positively stellar. Luckily for us, the writer was hyperaware of how much of her own added element would befit this seemingly-simple story of homicide. Those symbols of femininity (the red peonies, the patchwork quilt, the washing & scrap-booking) have never been placed in such intense context before—I was genuinely enthralled, impressed like a rabid Atwood fanboy. I truly like this one, perhaps not as much as her fantastic “Oryx and Crake,” but far more than her most famous “Handmaid’s Tale” & her more recent “Year of the Flood.” ...more
5

May 04, 2008

Margaret Atwood occupies a strange nook in my heart. She's become a bit of a chore lately, as I'm including her in my senior honors thesis; on the other hand, I've now read almost all of her novels, and while none are bad or even...not really good. Just that because a few of the novels shine so brightly, that the others seem duller in comparison.

Well, Alias Grace is a supernova. It's an absolutely phenomenal novel, and a truly thrilling read. It's a departure for Atwood, as it's historical Margaret Atwood occupies a strange nook in my heart. She's become a bit of a chore lately, as I'm including her in my senior honors thesis; on the other hand, I've now read almost all of her novels, and while none are bad or even...not really good. Just that because a few of the novels shine so brightly, that the others seem duller in comparison.

Well, Alias Grace is a supernova. It's an absolutely phenomenal novel, and a truly thrilling read. It's a departure for Atwood, as it's historical fiction (of course, she did do the Journals of Susanna Moodie before), but moreover, it employs similar narrative techniques as detective fiction, while turning them on their head--in any case, it's definitely a page-turner, which is not something you usually mention in conjunction with Atwood. This doesn't discount the literary merit--there's enough meat in the book to write a dissertation or five on it. There's something quite fresh in her style here, with many many passages I absolutely had to read aloud to whomever was (un)fortunate enough to be near me as I read.

The general structure of the novel is from the outset quite fascinating--each section is tied under the flag of a quilt pattern, and each begins with a series of epigraphs, combining historical documents, poetry, "witness accounts" and so forth--ultimately questioning the validity of each, and how we reconfigure the past with necessarily limited frameworks at hand. Writing a fictionalized account of a historical person is itself an indictment of history, but Atwood takes it so much farther, and in much more wonderfully 'political' ways. Grace is still a frustrating enigma by the end of the text, but you'll adore her and her sly moves, her secret longings, and her storytelling ability--Dr. Jordan, as we discover, has no idea what he's getting into with her. It's certainly a dark read, and often I would have to lay the book down for at least a minute or two to catch my breath. But Atwood has a wonderful way of infusing humor into even the bleakest of moments, so there were just as many times when I found myself laughing aloud. This book will not leave you for a long time. ...more
5

Feb 20, 2018

So, so good!
Alias Grace questions the existence of an absolute truth. Moreover, how is what we think of as the truth informed by power structures (specifically, gender and class disparages)? Can someone who is deemed mad tell the truth? Who do you believe when push comes to shove?
Even though this book was written in the 90s and is set in the middle of the 19th century, it remains an incredibly relevant read. I couldn’t help but read this story as commentary on current developments, such as the So, so good!
Alias Grace questions the existence of an absolute truth. Moreover, how is what we think of as the truth informed by power structures (specifically, gender and class disparages)? Can someone who is deemed mad tell the truth? Who do you believe when push comes to shove?
Even though this book was written in the 90s and is set in the middle of the 19th century, it remains an incredibly relevant read. I couldn’t help but read this story as commentary on current developments, such as the #MeToo movement – and what poignant commentary at that! Margaret Atwood manages to point out injustice and sexism, both overt and subtle, and I marked a lot of passages while reading. She also gives insight into the historical treatment of mental disorders and the development of what we know think of as psychiatry, which I found very fascinating.
Apart from the interesting and important topics it discusses, Alias Grace also tells such a well crafted story and it managed to keep me completely engrossed while reading. It remains an ambiguous read until the end and it’s very much the kind of book that only gives you answers if you want them, while also offering some kind of resolution and closure, and I really appreciated that.
I'd highly recommend Alias Grace and it's definitely the kind of book that will stick with me for a while! ...more
4

Nov 19, 2013

"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else."

This powerful passage is from Margaret Atwood's 1996 novel Alias Grace. She "When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else."

This powerful passage is from Margaret Atwood's 1996 novel Alias Grace. She developed the novel from her television script "The Servant Girl" of 1974, and it was shortlisted for the Booker prize. The story is about the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Canada. Grace Marks and James McDermott, both servants in the household, were convicted of the crime. McDermott was hanged and Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Alias Grace is based on factual events. However the author explains that she has used verifiable facts wherever possible, but that where there were none she felt at liberty to embroider or invent. One of her creations is the character of a doctor, Simon Jordan, who researches the case. Although he is conducting research into criminal behaviour, he slowly becomes more and more personally involved in the story which is gradually unveiled to him by Grace Marks. He finds it increasingly difficult to reconcile the gentle, self-controlled woman he sees every day with the murderess who has been convicted.

The novel follows the story of Grace's life, as she relates it to Doctor Jordan. These parts with Grace as the viewpoint character are cleverly written with no punctuation. Therefore, because they are written from Grace's point of view, the reader is never sure whether Grace is speaking or thinking. Atwood's use of language is poignant and evocative in these descriptions of events. Colours, smells, feelings - all are described in minute detail, which would be extraordinary feats of expression if spoken aloud by Grace herself. An example of this is the quotation above. It is attributed to Grace, but was this spoken aloud? Were these her own innermost thoughts? Or is it being addressed to the reader?

Other parts are written from Doctor Jordan's point of view, although Atwood uses the third person in these passages, whereas for Grace, it is always "I". This switching between points of view makes the reader uncertain, and the narrative quite edgy. In addition, authentic newspaper articles and letters from doctors and those in charge of Grace during her time in prisons and asylums are interspersed at the end of some of the chapters. They are not chronological, which again adds to the disjointed feel of the text. Most of the detail is of events prior to the murders, and some date from a long time earlier, but we do find out what happens to both Grace and Doctor Jordan after the long consultations.

Although in the afterword Atwood states that the facts are inconclusive, throughout the reader is trying to ascertain what really happened. We feel there is a mystery. (view spoiler)[ Was Grace insane, as some people believed? Was she a calculating murderess? Was she, as Doctor Jordan was grasping at, suffering from an as yet unidentified mental illness such as multiple personality? (hide spoiler)] At this distance we will never know, and in any event this is a novel. But it is very well-constructed and parts are beautifully written. ...more
5

June 30, 2017

Femme Fatale or Innocent Maiden?
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood tells the true story of 19th century alleged murderess Grace Marks.

At age 15/16, Grace Marks was convicted of killing her employer and his mistress with a fellow member of “the help”, James McDermott. Grace’s trial was highly publicized across Canada, the US, and Europe (she was an Amanda Knox of her time, if you will, more on that later.) Her story soon became both sensationalized and romanticized, and the true story seemed to fall by the wayside as the years went on.

Throughout Alias Grace, Atwood illustrates a system inherently skewed against someone like Grace because of her sex, age, and socio-economic status. At one point, a character notes that if Grace had come from a wealthy family her “madness” wouldn’t have been handled as it truly was. After the murder trial, Grace’s death sentence was changed to life in prison. However, for the first part of her imprisonment she was committed to an asylum, where Atwood alludes to abuse and sexual assault. I do not doubt it of that period, especially with a woman in that situation.

Alias Grace is a framed story, with Grace recounting her side of the story to young Dr. Simon Jordan. Dr. Jordan has foregone a traditional medical practice in favor of studying the mind and mental illness. As a forerunner of the field (although Dr. Jordan is fiction), he seeks to prove Grace’s innocence by uncovering the truth of the events, as well as Grace’s mental state. It goes without saying that in the 19th Century, the majority of mental illnesses were not yet “discovered”, researched, and diagnosed–thus, the individual likely would have been locked up and forgotten.

I particularly enjoyed Grace’s friendship with fellow maid Mary Whitney, as well as her doctor-patient relationship with Simon Jordan. Mary Whitney is often a foil to Grace; an outspoken young woman in a time when such behavior was viewed with suspicion. In fact, Grace and Mary were so close that I sometimes wondered if there was a Fight Club situation going on with them. I won’t get into spoilers, but there is a hypnosis event that occurs toward the end of the book that will both jolt and chill the reader. For some reason, and perhaps just because of my own world view, I did not go into this book thinking Grace was guilty. On the contrary, I viewed her as an innocent up until the hypnosis, and even after that I wasn’t entirely sure of its validity. I know Atwood is fond of using isolated, perhaps unreliable narrators (i.e. pedestal in Handmaid’s Tale in which we don’t get the full picture, just her perspective). In reality, no one is truly sure if Grace was guilty or innocent. Although the system worked against her, much of the public opinion was that she was innocent–an opinion which would later precipitate her pardon after 29 years in prison. The reader often aligns with Dr. Simon Jordan’s evaluation of Grace, as we are figuring her out alongside him. And in the end, even we do not know the truth.

Simon was an interesting character in his own right, as there are a few chapters from his point of view and even letters from and to him from family members and colleagues. If Simon is reflective of the reader, then we along with him are brought face to face with what anyone might do, or could do, in Grace’s situation. Can dreams and the unconscious so heavily influence our waking actions?

Atwood’s main theme seems to be a comment on society’s pre-conceived notions about women, especially those imprisoned: if a woman is young and pretty, are people more inclined to believe her innocence? And if a woman is old and ugly, does that make her guilty? At the same time, can society accept a young and pretty woman to be evil enough to manipulate people into believing her while she did the crime after all? Is society threatened by a clever woman, full stop, and would they inherently be suspicious of her because of that trait? If Grace had not been so young and pretty, would she still have been given a life sentence? Perhaps if she was ugly she would have been hanged, because society is apt to treat women who do not align with traditional beauty standards poorly. If James McDermott was not involved at all, could society have accepted that Grace may have done it all herself? If James McDermott was not involved, would society still think Grace a manipulative whore or a besotted lovesick girl? Femme fatale or innocent maiden? These two roles are often perpetuated not only in media, but in our society as a whole, as if a woman cannot be anything but one of these two archetypes and nothing more. The greater point I believe Atwood is trying to argue is that women are more complex than falling solely into one category. And the people judging Grace Marks clearly wanted her to fit into one box, regardless of facts vs. the desired narrative. But women cannot be seen as one or the other, nor sensationalized or romanticized, cast entirely aside nor placed on a pedestal. Rather, women should be viewed with all strengths and weaknesses in tact.

Sadly, we will probably never know the truth about Grace Marks, but Atwood’s novel calls attention to issues still prevalent today. How we view Grace will inevitably reflect our own worldview, as it was at the time of Grace’s trial. People will always believe what they want to believe, regardless of the truth.
5

Oct 27, 2014

This book is a gem. A work of fiction, but based on actual historical events, Alias Grace is the story of the convicted murderess, Grace Marks. Sixteen year old Grace and fellow servant James McDermott are said to have brutally murdered their employer, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper and supposed mistress, Nancy Montgomery, in Canada during the 1840’s. However, Grace claimed to have no memory of her own culpability in these murders. Both were found guilty; James McDermott was condemned to This book is a gem. A work of fiction, but based on actual historical events, Alias Grace is the story of the convicted murderess, Grace Marks. Sixteen year old Grace and fellow servant James McDermott are said to have brutally murdered their employer, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper and supposed mistress, Nancy Montgomery, in Canada during the 1840’s. However, Grace claimed to have no memory of her own culpability in these murders. Both were found guilty; James McDermott was condemned to death and Grace Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Provincial Penitentiary in Kingston, Canada.

In the novel, Grace’s story is revealed to Dr. Simon Jordan, a fictional, progressive, young doctor who is trained in the study of mental illnesses. Dr. Jordan’s expertise has been requested by a group of individuals who are petitioning for a pardon for Grace. Grace’s story, as she relates it in the first person to Dr. Jordan, is so very compelling, I could not put this book down. I was immediately drawn to Grace as she so expressively recounted her memories of her childhood, her migration to Canada from Ireland, her new life as a servant, her trial and her life in prison. Just like Dr. Jordan, I at first wondered about her guilt, her sanity, and whether or not she was speaking with candor or artifice.

The prose here is so wonderfully moving. At the end of one of her sessions with Dr. Jordan, Grace says, either to the reader or to herself:
“While he writes, I feel as if he is drawing me; or not drawing me, drawing on me – drawing on my skin – not with the pencil he is using, but with an old-fashioned goose pen, and not with the quill end but with the feather end. As if hundreds of butterflies have settled all over my face, and are softly opening and closing their wings.”

“But underneath that is another feeling, a feeling of being wide-eyed awake and watchful. It’s like being wakened suddenly in the middle of the night, by a hand over your face, and you sit up with your heart going fast, and no one is there. And underneath that is another feeling still, a feeling like being torn open; not like a body of flesh, it is not painful as such, but like a peach; and not even torn open, but too ripe and splitting open of its own accord. And inside the peach there’s a stone.”

Grace also has a way of discerning others that is at times both shrewd and witty. I felt as if she could easily have switched roles with Dr. Jordan – she being the analyst and he being the subject of her scrutiny rather than vice versa. And, Dr. Jordan, I felt was verily in need of some rehabilitation of his own psyche!

In addition, I found even her general observations of her surroundings to be rather droll. I found myself laughing out loud on occasion. In her description of a bustle, she says “it was like having another bum tied on top of your real one and the two of them following you around like a tin bucket tied to a pig.” Grace’s narrations of her dreams, too, were so vivid; I could feel the stirring emotions these evoked. “I was seeing it all for the first time, although I also knew I had been there before, as is the way in dreams… And I longed to be there, although in the dream I was there already; but I had a great yearning towards this house, for it was my real home.”

I grew to admire Grace throughout this book. But, was she innocent or guilty of the heinous crime for which she was convicted? Are we, the readers, able to come to a conclusion based on Ms. Atwood’s spin on this factual event? Or, is that not the real purpose here – to come to a veritable conclusion? No matter what you conclude, the consummate storytelling in this Atwood novel is well worth your time.
...more
4

Jun 24, 2009

At the very heart of certain narratives is a lacuna, to which the reader is drawn ineluctibly, as the centre of a whirlpool of meanings. It may indicate something essentially unknowable, ineffable - the lacuna in the Old Testament is when God tells Moses I AM THAT I AM, which lets us know in no uncertain terms that this thing is not of logic or language, whatever it may be; the lacuna of the New Testament is Christ's three days in the tomb - we are not told anything about that, it is unknowable. At the very heart of certain narratives is a lacuna, to which the reader is drawn ineluctibly, as the centre of a whirlpool of meanings. It may indicate something essentially unknowable, ineffable - the lacuna in the Old Testament is when God tells Moses I AM THAT I AM, which lets us know in no uncertain terms that this thing is not of logic or language, whatever it may be; the lacuna of the New Testament is Christ's three days in the tomb - we are not told anything about that, it is unknowable. Or this gap in the story may indicate simply something someone does not wish to tell us - the very heart of the matter, the thing of shame, the motive. Here the gap is a void or avoidance. Psychologically powerful avoidance fuelled by intense guilt makes a hair-raising narrative, as the reader, writer and protagonist gradually converge together and find themselves in the belly of the beast - two memorable examples from non-fiction are Fritz Stangl's horrible wrestling with his past as commandant of Treblinka in Gitta Sereney's series of interviews with him ("Into that Darkness") and Michaud & Aynesbury's interviews with Ted Bundy ("Conversations with a Killer"). In both cases we are caught up in the subtle and confrontational stratagems the interviewers use to get the monster to acknowledge an identification with the previous self who committed the atrocities. Stangl ferociously hangs on to the "it was just a job, a really really difficult job" line until he cracks - and how dramatic to read that a day or so after he finally - finally - admits that he was personally responsible for what he had done, he dies of a heart attack. Bundy constructs a way of describing his crimes by "speculating" about them in the third person, contemplating how the person who perpetrated them "might have been" feeling, of how he "was reacting inappropriately to stress in his life". He edges to the very rim of acceptance of guilt but can't manage the swan-dive into what we non-serial killers assume to be the cleansing waters of catharsis which await those who accept their crimes and seek atonement.
Alias Grace's story likewise is a stately sarabande of 550 pages around the central question - did she do it? Suspended from that mystery, the ponderous but pillowy narrative describes the life of Grace Marks in her own languid hyper-observational manner (a great fictional voice) and counterposes this with the fervid cavortings of the brain doctor sent to ferret out her great secret. He's quite a scream.
So anyway, this book is squarely in that genre I call Modern Victorian, in which the contemporary novelist writes us another great big Victorian story but being modern can put in all the filth and flesh, all the naming of parts which the real Victorian novelists couldn't do. It turns out, from what I've read so far, to be a great idea. Consider these -

1) The Crimson Petal and the White (Michel Faber) - completely brilliant and nearly 1000 pages too

2) The Quincunx (Charles Palliser) - completely brilliant and just over 1000 pages

3) Fingersmith (Sarah Waters) - yes, just about completely brilliant too

4) The French Lieutenant's Woman (John Fowles) - acknowledged by all to be fairly brilliant

Very glad to add Alias Grace to this select list and will be happy to grab up other Modern Victorians as they swim my way.

Alias Grace likes, in its modern way, to leave a lot of stuff unanswered and without chucking in a huge horrid spoiler here, I can't reveal why I think that part of the Central Revelatory Scene was pure codswallop, but that didn't make no never mind. Margaret Atwood's big book sails onward, sad, sumptuous, and very slightly sexy too. ...more
5

Jun 22, 2019

”If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”

A fictionalised retelling of the story of Grace Marks and the part that she may or may not have played in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Grace was only 16 when she accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper.

This is a fantastic mix of true crime and historical fiction! Atwood blends the two wonderfully, even including actual excerpts from reports and books, as well as pictures of the two charged ”If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”

A fictionalised retelling of the story of Grace Marks and the part that she may or may not have played in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Grace was only 16 when she accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper.

This is a fantastic mix of true crime and historical fiction! Atwood blends the two wonderfully, even including actual excerpts from reports and books, as well as pictures of the two charged with the murders. Atwood’s research and attention to detail is very apparent, although I held off on reading about the true crime case that inspired the novel until after I had finished.

The story kicks off with Grace in Kingston Penitentiary, serving her sentence for these murders. That is until Doctor Simon Jordan becomes involved in her case and tries to unlock some of the memories that she claims are hidden away. What unravels is a slow-paced yet addictive read, brimming with sex, violence and commentaries on both class and gender. And I could not get enough!

My overwhelming reaction to this book was to simply be in awe of Atwood’s writing and wit. She provides such sharp astute observations that are equally intelligent and droll - I definitely sniggered on more than a few occasions.

To summarise, Atwood is a goddamn queen. Alias Grace surpasses The Handmaid’s Tale as my favourite Atwood to date and is up there in my top 10 books of the year so far! I loved every single page! 5 stars. ...more
5

Apr 02, 2017

This is an extraordinary reconstruction of the life of Grace Marks, a domestic servant who was convicted of the double murder of her employers in Canada in the 1840s. In framing the story around her interviews with a young doctor interested in making his name by proving her innocence, Atwood is able to avoid committing herself on the degree of Grace's guilt and complicity while exploring a range of wider social issues.

The doctor's troubled relationship with his deserted landlady is interwoven This is an extraordinary reconstruction of the life of Grace Marks, a domestic servant who was convicted of the double murder of her employers in Canada in the 1840s. In framing the story around her interviews with a young doctor interested in making his name by proving her innocence, Atwood is able to avoid committing herself on the degree of Grace's guilt and complicity while exploring a range of wider social issues.

The doctor's troubled relationship with his deserted landlady is interwoven around the main story - many of the essential dilemmas are the same as those Grace faced.

I did find the denouement a little unsatisfactory (view spoiler)[ - Grace is exposed to a form of mesmerism and speaks in a schizophrenic voice as if possessed by her dead friend Mary, who claims to have instigated everything, and the happy ending seemed a little unconvincing. (hide spoiler)].

I was struck several times by parallels with His Bloody Project, which explores similar territory between social history, fiction and criminal psychology.

Overall this is a very impressive novel that pushes the boundaries of historical fiction. ...more
5

December 16, 2017

Even Better Than a Handmaid's Tale
Having really enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale, I was very excited to read Alias Grace and to see that it is a new series on Netflix.  I really enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale but I have to say that I actually liked Alias Grace more.  It might have been because it was based on a true story but the story was fascinating to me. 

Grace Marks is a prisoner, having been found guilty of the grisly murder of her employer and his housekeeper.  She is said to have committed the murders of Nancy Montgomery and Thomas Kinnear with her coworker, James McDermott, who is a surly and jealous man.  While she was initially sentenced to hang like McDermott, she is saved by her lawyer, who pleads with the court to consider her youth, and her sentence is commuted to a life term.  Soon after she is imprisoned, she is committed to an asylum on account of fits and her amnesia surrounding anything to do with the crime.  While she is treated with the worst of the time's psychiatric treatments, she still does not remember anything about the time when Montgomery and Kinnear are murdered.  Years later, a young psychiatrist is brought in by a group trying to prove her innocence to try to help her remember more about the crime.

My favorite part of this book would have to be the characters that Atwood has created, Nancy being one of my favorites.  She is the perfect narcissist.  She is jealous, manipulative and overly sensitive.  One never knows where they stand with her as she can love you or hate you from day to day and minute to minute.  Grace, herself, is actually quite likeable.  She comes off as very intelligent in a very street smart way.  I also think that she could be a very relatable character for many of us in that she is but a product of her past.  While I didn't feel that Dr. Jordan's story added very much to the overall feel of the book, Grace's story was sad but very interesting.  I was left wanting to know more.  The writing style is sophisticated but still very easily readable.  I really enjoyed this book and I believe that anyone who enjoys historical fiction, true crime or medical mysteries will enjoy this book, too.
3

Sep 15, 2008

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I'm giving this three stars, but the correct rating would be 2 1/2 stars - I liked this book, for the most part, but there were just too many unanswered questions and minor annoyances for me to want to read it again.
Usually, I hate giving away the endings of books in my reviews, but I honestly cannot talk about Alias Grace without giving away major plot points. You've been warned.

So: for the most part, this was a cool story, mostly because it's based on the true story of Grace Marks, who I'm giving this three stars, but the correct rating would be 2 1/2 stars - I liked this book, for the most part, but there were just too many unanswered questions and minor annoyances for me to want to read it again.
Usually, I hate giving away the endings of books in my reviews, but I honestly cannot talk about Alias Grace without giving away major plot points. You've been warned.

So: for the most part, this was a cool story, mostly because it's based on the true story of Grace Marks, who supposedly helped murder her employer and his housekeeper. She served thirty years in prison, plus several years in a mental institution. Atwood's story has two perspectives: Grace Marks and Simon Jordan, a doctor who's interviewing her and basically trying to get her to remember the day of the murders. This was all pretty cool, and I liked Grace a lot as a protagonist. So let's move on to the negative.
Stuff I Didn't Like:
-Simon creeped me out. One minute he's half-heartedly flirting with the daughter of the prison Govenor while mentally undressing her, and then he's screwing his landlady for reasons that even he doesn't understand. And then towards the end of the book he's suddenly like, "Oh wait! I'm in love with Grace! Yes! Totally in love" and it made NO SENSE. This was the first time I'd read a book where Atwood writes from a man's perspective, and it did not go well.
-I guessed the ending. This is an extremely bad sign, because I can NEVER guess book endings, ever. But with this book, I'd gotten to the part where Grace describes how McDermott told her she'd promised to sleep with him, and she was like, "I did not" and I thought, "She's being possessed by the spirit of Mary Whitney." And then I thought that it had to be more complicated than that, and that there would be a scientific explanation for it. But there wasn't. Which brings me to my next point...
-Atwood's half-hearted commitment to the paranormal aspect of the story. The hypnosis scene revealed that Mary was possessing Grace, but then everyone was like, "But that's not possible, there's a psychological explanation" but they never gave one. All the elements of a good ghost story are here: the peddlar who reads palms, divination with an apple peel, people making strange, random prophesies (like Grace's mother saying she wouldn't survive the voyage, and Mary telling Grace she'd cross water three times before getting married), and the bizarre possession. But Atwood, probably because she didn't want to lose her credibility or something, refrains from going all-out with the paranormal events. If she'd have relaxed a bit and written the book as a ghost story instead of historic fiction, it would have been really good.
-The whole hypnosis. I was sure it was all an act, because Jeremiah had been telling Grace earlier about setting up a fake spiritualist act, but then Grace didn't seem to remember anything about the hypnosis or what she said during it. So could Jeremiah actually hypnotize people? After the hypnosis scene, and as soon as I realized I was expected to believe that it had been authentic, was when my faith in the story really started to drop. It was all downhill from there.
-No twist ending. I was waiting, up until the last page, for Grace to be like, "I'm so glad I killed those two bastards. Mwahahahaha! The end." But no such luck. In retrospect, I should have known better - Atwood hates giving readers a straight answer to anything, and conclusive endings where everything gets wrapped up in a neat little package is for lesser authors, I guess.
...more
5

Oct 16, 2019

I had just finished Alias Grace!
Meanwhile, the news came from the book world that the jury broke the rule and now there are two books that can be read this year with the same tagging of Booker prize winner 2019 on them. Peter Florence, the chair of the five-member judging panel of Booker prize said, “The more we talked about them, the more we found we loved them both so much we wanted them both to win.”

What can be a better time than this to say something about a book of Margaret Atwood, when I had just finished Alias Grace!
Meanwhile, the news came from the book world that the jury broke the rule and now there are two books that can be read this year with the same tagging of Booker prize winner 2019 on them. Peter Florence, the chair of the five-member judging panel of Booker prize said, “The more we talked about them, the more we found we loved them both so much we wanted them both to win.”

What can be a better time than this to say something about a book of Margaret Atwood, when she once more bagged this prize with Evaristo and also became the oldest ever Booker prize winner. Congrats to both of them from my side as well!

So here is this book... Alias Grace….. a unique one!
Till the end of this book, I was not mindful of the fact that this book was based on a true historical case of the 1840s. I was reading the entire work with a pure sense of fictional work. When I got there towards the end of this tale my indignation could be explained as of a reader who was trying hard to know the suspense behind the tale but then the book finished and there came an afterword from the author stating this...

“Alias Grace is a work of fiction, although it is based on reality. Its central figure, Grace Marks, was one of the most notorious Canadian women of 1840s, having been convicted of murder at the age of sixteen.”

However, this superficial rage lasted in me just for a few minutes after finishing the novel and then my overall reading experience of this book brought me back into the normalcy. And once the normalcy was restored, I once again felt the immense delight of reading this tale. Only an astute and highly proficient author can do this...converting a well known and highly publicized real story into a magnificent fictional work…such wonderful storytelling and a very deft art of narration.

Grace Marks came to a township of Toronto from Northern Ireland with her father and with her four brothers and four sisters when she was 13 and there she worked for 3 years as a servant and then at the age of 16 got convicted of murders, and then for the next many many years spending her youth in a penitentiary, she remained one of the most celebrated murderesses of her time.
Some called her an accomplished actress and a most practiced liar considering her a sham. Others felt she was innocent and sane assuming that at such a tender age she could not commit those heinous crimes. A doctor from Massachusetts Dr. Simon Jordon comes to understand her case after sixteen years. She tells her story and this doctor of her age writes down it with great observation and precaution.

She tells and observes him. He listens and infers her.

“While he writes I feel as if he is drawing me; or not drawing me, drawing on me – drawing on my skin- not with the pencil he is using but with the old- fashioned goose pen, and not with the quill end but with the feather end. As if hundreds of butterflies settled all over my face, and are softly opening and closing their wings.”

This way Atwood narrates the story of Grace Marks through these two characters in an alluring manner. This book is a classic example of class conflict, lust, complicacy of a trial and psychic battles within humans. I enjoyed every part of the book. Dr. Simon’s parallel story with all his desire-driven thoughts gives a holistic fictional sense to this book.

You will find so many things here! There is a panoramic sea voyage here, scullery maids and servant girls with their lives and emotions, a portrayal of fear in the upper class of rebellion that had occurred there during that period. An emotional relation between Grace and her friend Mary Whitney is there. There are morose and churlish characters, an interesting paddler, unsolicited relations between the upper-class employer and lower-class worker. The poetry of Atwood reflects through characters as well. Jamie Walsh, an interesting character plays sometimes songs upon his flute:

"Tom, Tom, The piper's son,
Stole a pig and away he run,
And all the tune that he could play
Was over the hills and far away"

If you are an Atwood fan.. ..Even if you have read her other great works... You cannot miss this book at all! ...more
4

Nov 14, 2017

Another excellent novel from the pen of Margaret Atwood – this is her masterly, fictionalised retelling of the life of Grace Marks and the part that she allegedly may or may not have played in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery.

The story takes place in the early to mid-19th Century and is written for the most part around Grace Marks supposed retelling of her life story to the fictional Dr Simon Jordan – events unfolds to the reader as they are told to Dr Jordan. This includes Another excellent novel from the pen of Margaret Atwood – this is her masterly, fictionalised retelling of the life of Grace Marks and the part that she allegedly may or may not have played in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery.

The story takes place in the early to mid-19th Century and is written for the most part around Grace Marks supposed retelling of her life story to the fictional Dr Simon Jordan – events unfolds to the reader as they are told to Dr Jordan. This includes Grace’s childhood in Ireland, her subsequent traumatic emigration to Canada and a life in service prior to events concerning the murders and her eventual incarceration. Atwood paints as usual a fascinating picture, which is not only compelling but has an all pervading air of authenticity throughout. Interesting too is the developing (imagined) relationship between Jordan and Marks and the effect that their interviews together have on each other.

Dr Jordan is an aspiring and ambitious scientist – and due to the time in which the story takes place, this is a world of proto psychology, embryonic psychiatry – both very much in their infancy. It is also the parallel world of séances, possession, mesmerism, exorcism, and neuro-hypnotism – the difference between the two worlds often indistinct.

A major theme running throughout the novel is the treatment, subjugation, demonisation and conversely the romanticisation of women associated with or accused of violent crime; particularly by comparison to their male counterparts.

This is all about class, gender, age, sex and power and Margaret Atwood shines a light on the many issues central to a story such as this one and in doing so, deconstructs the assumptions/presumptions seemingly held about Grace Marks at that time – and by extension about so many cases since that time, has anything actually changed?

This is a dark, gloomy and murky world where fact blurs with fiction, guilt with innocence, sanity with madness, love with desire, memory with imagination, truth with auto-suggestion, victim with perpetrator, science with superstition, good with evil, life with death…

Atwood also provides us with a useful afterword, in which she outlines the ‘known facts’ (such as they are) concerning Grace Marks and the Kinnear/Montgomery murders. Atwood reiterates that ‘Alias Grace’ is although having its roots in fact, is overwhelmingly a work of fiction.

‘Alias Grace’ is a great novel, brilliantly written – highly recommended and not to be missed. ...more
4

Mar 21, 2011

The Handmaid's Tale and the Blind Assassin were my previous Atwood reads and while I understand her alpha-author status in Canada and international reputation, her works just do not quite blow my mind enough to turn me into an obsessive Atwood completist. Before I decided to read Alias Grace it had been on my shelf for three years gathered enough dust to sculpt a dust bunny the size of an actual rabbit. I feel the same about A.S Byatt... no reason, no discernible malaise directed at these two The Handmaid's Tale and the Blind Assassin were my previous Atwood reads and while I understand her alpha-author status in Canada and international reputation, her works just do not quite blow my mind enough to turn me into an obsessive Atwood completist. Before I decided to read Alias Grace it had been on my shelf for three years gathered enough dust to sculpt a dust bunny the size of an actual rabbit. I feel the same about A.S Byatt... no reason, no discernible malaise directed at these two lauded lady writers although while I'm on the subject of lady writers, did you know that A.S Byatt is Margaret Drabbles sister?! Ah the powers of google, feeding extra computer facts into my non-computer brain.

The Alias Grace in question is Grace Marks. Reputed murderess of the 1840s, this Canadian killer was a cause celebre for a number of years. Murderous Georgian ladies were uncommon so got a lot of press. Grace got a lot of press because she was young and pretty too, thus leaving a lot of the puritanical religious minded community to pause for thought when it came to considering what the perceived face of evil might really look like. Grace Marks and her alleged paramour, stable hand James McDermott were charged with the murder of their employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper/lover Nancy Montgomery after which they fled to the United States while dressed in the garb of the murder victims. Nothing says crazy like playing dress-up in corpse clothes.

In the true tradition of all the best murder mysteries, there were a lot of question marks over whodunnit or to be more precise, who exactly did what to who and when. The trial was well documented and although McDermott was hanged for his crime, Grace escaped the noose and went on to live alternately in a penitentiary and a lunatic asylum depending on her state of mind at any given time.

Atwood subtly adapts this tale of murder most horrid by giving a voice to Grace Marks and allowing her to tell her story. Atwood freely admits that where there were uncertainties or blanks in the historic record, she gave her imagination free reign, but she could not stretch the truth too far or the story would not seem remotely credible. The historic jury is still out on whether or not Grace committed the crimes, either knowingly, unknowingly in a state delerium tremens (or some other mysterious lady-condition identified as nerves or a delicate constitution back in the bad old days) or not at all. The addition of quack-esque doctor Simon Jordan is also an excellent touch as his moral and mental decline throughout the tale stands in stark contrast to Grace's seemingly robust and sanguine nature. ...more
5

Aug 30, 2015

**Minor Spoilers**

This book is as close to time travel and walking in the shoes of another person as it gets, perfect historical fiction based on a fascinating actual case of a 15 year old girl thrown into prison for a double homicide. Most of the story comes in from two perspectives, Grace Marks herself telling her story to a young MD/psychologist working to see if he can get her released from prison, and then from the young physician himself listening to her story, never sure he can truly **Minor Spoilers**

This book is as close to time travel and walking in the shoes of another person as it gets, perfect historical fiction based on a fascinating actual case of a 15 year old girl thrown into prison for a double homicide. Most of the story comes in from two perspectives, Grace Marks herself telling her story to a young MD/psychologist working to see if he can get her released from prison, and then from the young physician himself listening to her story, never sure he can truly trust her, yet physically drawn to her, in the meantime having his own weird personal life that mirrors some of the things Grace herself has gone through.

The author's writing is so beautiful, so perfect for the era (mid 1800's) full of metaphors of the colors red, blue and white, the icy burial of Grace's mother at sea. There is attention to every little detail of the times, the smells, clothing, difficult working conditions of the servants and maids, the religious attitudes of the time, the early science of psychology, the conditions in the prisons, insane asylums, the gossip, the power of men, the sad position of some of the women, the life of the entitled and affluent versus the life of the unentitled, our little Grace, who has done an amazing job of surviving the dozens of trials of her life.

In the end, it doesn't really matter how involved she was or wasn't in the murders. What matters is that her spirit was never broken and she made it through extreme conditions with the help of some great people and she did it with Grace. I love Grace.

Throughout the book I was most happy that we now have air conditioning. I always laughed when Grace talked about certain people doing or saying "coarse" things. The relationship our little do good physician had with his landlady was hilarious and sad at the same time. Oh how we have mixed emotions and impulses as humans.

This was a great 5 star read for me and I'm so glad to find Margaret Atwood.
...more
4

Feb 15, 2018

Audiobook performed by Sarah Gadon and an afterword by Margaret Atwood 15h 57m.

I definitely enjoyed this more than Handmaid's Tale. Imagine! I wish Netflix Canada would air the series for us Canucks that choose Netflix as our only television option. Because now that I have read/listened to the story, I am excited to see it all play out onscreen.

The tale of Irish servant Grace Marks is not one that I had ever heard about. It isn't one that we find lingering in our history books,but Atwood Audiobook performed by Sarah Gadon and an afterword by Margaret Atwood 15h 57m.

I definitely enjoyed this more than Handmaid's Tale. Imagine! I wish Netflix Canada would air the series for us Canucks that choose Netflix as our only television option. Because now that I have read/listened to the story, I am excited to see it all play out onscreen.

The tale of Irish servant Grace Marks is not one that I had ever heard about. It isn't one that we find lingering in our history books,but Atwood makes her come alive on the page. Although I felt myself feeling a sense of empathy for Grace, I also was not completely persuaded that she hadn't had some hand in the crimes that she was accused of committing. It was this going back and forth coupled with Sarah Gadon's narration that has kept me spellbound this week.

If you haven't yet read an Atwood novel, I think this is the book for any new reader. ...more
5

Jun 03, 2018

My, so far, favourite Atwood!

Alias Grace is the fictional re-imaging of the historical figure Grace Marks. Grace was just 16 in the year 1843 when she was accused of murdering her employer, Thomas Kinnear, along with his mistress and housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Grace's regal beauty and tender age redeemed her to the masses and a score of individuals pleaded for her freedom. Grace had little to say for herself, claiming short-term amnesia for the time surrounding the murder. James McDermott My, so far, favourite Atwood!

Alias Grace is the fictional re-imaging of the historical figure Grace Marks. Grace was just 16 in the year 1843 when she was accused of murdering her employer, Thomas Kinnear, along with his mistress and housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Grace's regal beauty and tender age redeemed her to the masses and a score of individuals pleaded for her freedom. Grace had little to say for herself, claiming short-term amnesia for the time surrounding the murder. James McDermott was also convicted but, unlike Grace, had no individuals fighting for him, apart from their shared lawyer, and swung for his misdemeanours. Just before he took his final breaths he announced to the crowd that Grace was responsible for Nancy's murder. Instead of following his fate, Grace was incarcerated in an asylum. Whether she was guilty or innocent has never been proven and Grace herself remained reluctant to redeem or condemn herself, continuing to claim a lapse in memory until her eventual death.

This fictional account follows Grace's story some years after the chilling ordeal. She is now only temporarily incarcerated at night and spends her days working as a maid in a grand household. Doctor Simon Jordan visits her new abode and, eager to uncover the secrets of this infamous case, sets up a series of meetings in which to explore the past by increasingly peculiar means.

Uncovering the mysteries of the past had me as enthralled and captivated as Dr Jordan. Learning the details of this case, through Grace's own words (albeit fictionally), was exhilarating. I appreciated how Atwood provided autonomy to the silenced, historical female and allowed her a space in which to voice her own story.

The intrigue continued far beyond the reaches of the page, as Grace's fictional story terminates as mysteriously as her real-world duplicate's. The reader is invited to provide their own closure as no sufficient one is granted, by both Atwood and by history. And so, Grace Marks continues to haunt and to capture the imagination. ...more
5

Aug 11, 2019

I adored every single page of this book and I’m truly in awe of Atwood’s skill. She never fails to write an absolutely stunning story that completely draws you in from the very first word. I loved that this was based on historical events but with Atwood’s own spin on it, it is absolutely spectacular. I love how Atwood isn’t afraid to talk about important things and can really make you think while also thoroughly entertaining you. This book is an absolute must read, the story is just so I adored every single page of this book and I’m truly in awe of Atwood’s skill. She never fails to write an absolutely stunning story that completely draws you in from the very first word. I loved that this was based on historical events but with Atwood’s own spin on it, it is absolutely spectacular. I love how Atwood isn’t afraid to talk about important things and can really make you think while also thoroughly entertaining you. This book is an absolute must read, the story is just so interesting and thrilling, you don’t want to miss out on this one! ...more

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