Alias Grace is a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, published in 1996 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Summary from Amazon.com
Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, 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.
Dr Simon Jordan, 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? Is Grace a female friend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?
This book is my project for my Canadian literature class and I must admit I chose it because I’ve been attracted to troubled female characters lately (it all started with A Streetcar Named Desire!). But, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the work, so shame on me for doubting Atwood’s skills as a writer.
I decided to buy a special edition issued for the author’s 75th birthday and, for those of you who like luxurious books, this one is for you. The cover is made of cloth, like that of the special editions for Penguin Classics, and the illustrations are made with silver ink, creating a very beautiful contrast with the cloth. On the inside, the paper is high-quality and there is even a cloth bookmark!
But, what matters the most, is the story. It catches the reader from the very beginning since it creates a mystery and most chapters are so short that I found myself reading at 2 a.m and saying “just another chapter more”. The style is elegant, yet the narration is easy to follow and captivating thanks to the different narrators we encounter. As it is typical in Atwood, we have newspapers’ articles (in this work, even legal documents), Grace’s point of view, her doctor’s point of view and a third person omniscient narrator. All of them are interesting, but I was especially interested in Grace’s.
From the very beginning, she is described as a murderer and as a mentally ill person. But, once we encounter her chapters, she is so whole and logical, that no one would ever think she murdered two people and ran away. But, as the narrative progresses, the reader finds hints of Grace’s ambiguity and makes you think, that maybe, there is more to the calm, quiet Grace working as a maid at the Governor’s house.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so everything related to Grace ends up here. One last word, to say that she is one of the most beautiful and complex characters ever written and I can understand why Margaret Atwood felt attracted to her after reading her story in Susanna Moodie’s Life in the Clearings.
Regarding themes, it’s Margaret Atwood! She is one of the most feminist yet logical and witty writers I’ve ever read. Neither are all men bad nor are all women good. It all has an interpretation and each person is different. However, due to Grace’s job as a maid, she explores the difficulties she had to face: from low wages to the desire of getting married to escape and even abortion, out-of-wedlock babies and even rape (by their employers). I was deeply moved by this situation and found myself thinking that I would never survive in such an environment. After all, Grace was only 16 when she was accused of murdering her employers and she had been working for almost 2 years.
So, Alias Grace is a complex yet addictive novel, full of layers of interpretation, as many as readers I would say. The story is appealing to almost anyone and I would like to highlight that while reading it, I thought of Grace as a 19th century Amanda Knox. Margaret Atwood states at the end of the novel a similarity I could easily spot as a 2011 reader (but that she, back in 1996 could not have known of, obviously!):
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