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Alias Grace: A Novel Paperback – October 13, 1997
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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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Top Customer Reviews
Read from February 12 to 17, 2016
I only know of Margaret Atwood's work fromThe Handmaid's Taleand Oryx and Crake. One I loved; the other, I didn't. I would put Alias Grace between the two. Admittedly, I had a hard time getting interested in the book at first. But, Ms. Atwood pulled me into Grace's story with her vivid descriptions and the strangely flat affect of the main character. Using the device of adding poetry, bits of letters, book excerpts, and court transcripts (in this book) to advance the plot and to present differing views of characters isn't something I usually find compelling. It is just that--a device. However, that device is used well and appropriately in Alias Grace.
Because I didn't read any reviews, I didn't realize until I read Atwood's notes at the end of the book that Grace was a real person, and that this book was based upon real events. (That made some internet research necessary for me.)
The reason I kept reading was Grace. I have never been so intrigued by a character with such a flat affect and a seemingly two-dimensional personality. I was longing for the REAL Grace to appear. Atwood leaves the reality of Grace to the reader.
As a history buff who is particularly interested in the 19th century, I felt that Atwood did a good job of presenting the varied treatments used for the insane. She also addresses the movements to reform asylums and penitentiaries, as well as religious reform during the period. Grace, herself, thwarts the efforts of the doctors to "cure" her. Dr. Jordan becomes the inverse of Grace. He falls into a sort of madness as she climbs out of hers. Atwood also addresses the intense interest of the period in spiritualism--through Grace, through Dr. Jordan, through Jeremiah, and through the "good" women in the book.
I felt the connection to The Handmaid's Tale in the moralistic view of life presented by the religious figures in this book. Grace, herself, could have been a handmaid.
I had no idea until I read the author's note that this story was based on a true story. Margaret Atwood manages to create such a rich back story of Grace Marks and the painstaking detail she took with the research into this story is obvious. The book starts after the murders when Grace is in prison. The other man accused of the murders, James McDermot, is hung as his punishment for his role in the crime. Before he was executed, he left a written confession that the murders were entirely Grace's idea. A therapist, Dr. Simon Jordan, wishes to interview her to determine her innocence for a possible pardon request. Everyone around Grace, from the fellow prisoners to the Governor's wife to the Reverend to Dr. Jordan has very strong feelings about Grace's innocence. But who is right? Did Grace Marks murder Nancy and Thomas in cold blood? Was she actually a victim of James McDermot? Did she lose all memory of the murders as she claims?
I was fully invested in the book from the very beginning. I wanted to hear Grace's story and yes, like the media accounts in the novel, I had a morbid curiosity to know all of the details regarding the crime. I got the feeling that Dr. Jordan had this same morbid curiosity. Grace begins her sessions with Dr. Jordan by describing the events in her childhood that led to her coming to Canada. She eventually tells of the events that led her to working for Thomas Kinnear and the events leading up to the murder. Dr. Jordan pushes Grace to open up and at times, seems impatient that she is giving all this extra back story.
It is hard to trust the narration of either Grace Marks or Dr. Jordan. Even when it is Grace's voice, she appears to be holding back, both from Dr. Jordan and the reader. It is easy to see why Grace wants to hold back from the doctor. She doesn't want to reveal too much for fear of being thought crazy and being committed to an asylum. I also questioned Dr. Jordan's motives. His motives seemed to be about ego more than anything else and then eventually it is clear that he is falling in love with Grace. I really distrusted his point of view when it came to the sex/rape scenes between him and a woman he was having an affair with. He says that the woman wants to have sex with her, despite the fact that she repeatedly says no. I think I could have done without those scenes.
The ending of this book is a bit ambiguous. I wasn't sure why Margaret Atwood would choose to end it the way she did until I read the author's note. Atwood stuck to the factual case of Grace Marks as much as she could, but in the end this is a work of fiction. In real life, the innocence of Grace Marks was still a question up until her death. The ending of the book was a bit anticlimactic for me, but this was still a very compelling story.