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Alias Grace: A Novel Paperback – October 13, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

In 1843, a 16-year-old Canadian housemaid named Grace Marks was tried for the murder of her employer and his mistress. The sensationalistic trial made headlines throughout the world, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Yet opinion remained fiercely divided about Marks--was she a spurned woman who had taken out her rage on two innocent victims, or was she an unwilling victim herself, caught up in a crime she was too young to understand? Such doubts persuaded the judges to commute her sentence to life imprisonment, and Marks spent the next 30 years in an assortment of jails and asylums, where she was often exhibited as a star attraction. In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood reconstructs Marks's story in fictional form. Her portraits of 19th-century prison and asylum life are chilling in their detail. The author also introduces Dr. Simon Jordan, who listens to the prisoner's tale with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. In his effort to uncover the truth, Jordan uses the tools of the then rudimentary science of psychology. But the last word belongs to the book's narrator--Grace herself. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Intrigued by contemporary reports of a sensational murder trial in 1843 Canada, Atwood has drawn a compelling portrait of what might have been. Her protagonist, the real life Grace Marks, is an enigma. Convicted at age 16 of the murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper and lover, Nancy Montgomery, Grace escaped the gallows when her sentence was commuted to life in prison, but she also spent some years in an insane asylum after an emotional breakdown. Because she gave three different accounts of the killings, and because she was accused of being the sole perpetrator by the man who was hanged for the crime, Grace's life and mind are fertile territory for Atwood. Adapting her style to the period she describes, she has written a typical Victorian novel, leisurely in exposition, copiously detailed and crowded with subtly drawn characters who speak the embroidered, pietistic language of the time. She has created a probing psychological portrait of a working-class woman victimized by society because of her poverty, and victimized again by the judicial and prison systems. The narrative gains texture and tension from the dynamic between Grace and an interlocutor, earnest young bachelor Dr. Simon Jordan, who is investigating the causes of lunacy with plans to establish his own, more enlightened institution. Jordan is hoping to awaken Grace's suppressed memories of the day of the murder, but Grace, though uneducated, is far wilier than Jordan, whom she tells only what she wishes to confess. He, on the other hand, is handicapped by his compassion, which makes him the victim of the wiles of other women, too?his passionate, desperate landlady, and the virginal but predatory daughter of the prison governor. These encounters give Atwood the chance to describe the war between the sexes with her usual wit. Although the narrative holds several big surprises, the central question?Was Grace dupe and victim or seductress and instigator of the bloody crime??is left tantalizingly ambiguous. Major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 468 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 13, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385490445
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385490443
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,552 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MARGARET ATWOOD, whose work has been published in over thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; and her most recent, Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize. She lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

112 of 118 people found the following review helpful By Susan Zuckerman on April 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Although I've been a fan of Margaret Atwood's for many years (as any good Canadian woman should be!), I usually enjoyed her actual writing--her poetic turn of a phrase, her quirky descriptions--more than the plots of her novels. Alias Grace shows her as a masterful storyteller. The first time I read it I could hardly put it down, so anxious was I to learn the ultimate fate of Grace Marks, but forced myself to read it more slowly to savour living in the Victorian times Atwood re-created in palpable detail. As soon as I finished, all I wanted to do was go back to the beginning and start over. For a month I resisted, and then re-read it slowly, studying her art of writing. A couple of years later now, I have re-read it for a third time, and am still in awe of the multiple layers of this story, the painstaking research into the life of Grace Marks, the simple language used by the uneducated Grace that yet reveals her very clever mind, the delightful overlay of quilting patterns, the details of domestic work in Victorian Canada, the emergent state of psychiatry, and the skillful unfolding of an unpredictable plot. The variety of forms of writing is also intriguing, the monologues of Grace and the correspondence between Dr. Jordan and his friends and family. Alias Grace is a true masterpiece, the most brilliant Canadian novel ever, I would say.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on August 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
What will she do next? Surely other fans of Margaret Atwood find her books as wonderful and unpredictable as I do. Reading Atwood has made me laugh so hard I cried (Lady Oracle, Life Before Man); made me angry (The Handmaid's Tale); made me reflective and pensive (Cat's Eye); and made me wonder out loud (Alias Grace). If they give out awards for versitility in writing, Atwood should win hands down.
To me, "Alias Grace" reads like one of the more recent histories of Simon Schma which covered high crimes and misdemeanors in the 19th century. What really did happen to Grace Marks? Atwood presents the facts, you be the judge. The evidence concerning Grace Marks is conflicted. Was she a notorious killer or innocent victim? If Atwood is trying to shape the conclusion in the reader's mind, she is certainly subtle. I got the audiobook for my aunt, and she's still ticked off because Atwood didn't really spell out the verdict in a simple yes or no.
This is a tale of intrigue, mystery, history, and the supernatural--or is it. Grace hears voices or does she? Do they come from the spirit world or Grace's imagination? Does Grace control her soul or is she possessed or mad? I found the book absolutely spellbinding.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By "neeterskeeter27" on October 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Alias Grace is a haunting and memorable novel. It is definately among one of the best I have ever read, and would be called my favorite if naming only one book in the whole world as such a thing were possible. This book was suprisingly unlike the best-selling novels I've been reading recently, as it was not only written to sell but to convey a message, and it possesses an integrity which is lacking in many books full of popular prose written in order to make money. I could not agree more with the blurb by Washington Post Book World which appears on the front cover of the edition I read: "Alias Grace has all the pacing of a commercial novel and all the resonance of a classic." Not only is this book meritable for its captivating and original plot, but also, more importantly, for its literary quality. The author, Margaret Atwood, has written the entire book in language ture to the time it takes place, and her skill for consistantly choosing lyrical and thought-provoking words is astounding.
Alias Grace is the story of a real-life character, Grace Marks, who at age fifteen was sentenced to death for her part in the murder of her murder of the man she worked for and his mistress. Her sentence was then changed to life imprisonment after her skillful lawyer and many important citizens pleaded her case. However, many thought she should have hanged with her co-conspirator and that was as guilty as he was. Thus, Grace Marks was made a "celebrated murderess" and an infamous enigma of the nineteenth century, and her story has been brought to us with the grace-ful writing of Margaret Atwood. This novel was written so well that it had me literally laughing out loud one minute and then literally crying real tears the next.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is based on fact: a many years old unsolved murder case, yet it reads like a first-class work of fiction. The characters, to Atwood's immense credit, are supremely believable and well-motivated, the plot is clean and credible, the setting superb and the ending satisfying. That we don't know the heroine's final lot in life matters little. Atwood grabs your interest on the first page and never loses it, building suspense from one paragraph to the next. It would have easy for a lesser author to let the story get out of hand, providing us with pat endings and easy answers, something Atwood never does. Alias Grace is a masterfully-told tale...a work of art woven from precious few facts and one extremely gifted writer's well-controlled imagination.
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