January 02, 2010

Review: Alias Grace

Alias Grace
by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is a name that rates up there with Ian McEwan and John Irving. The idea of reading her books has intimidated me for long enough. I have finally taken the plunge and found her to be praiseworthy.

Grace Marks is convicted of murder in 1843, but is surprisingly spared from the death penalty. She is considered an accomplice with James McDermott in the murder of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. There are discrepancies in her story and in those told by James, who was executed for his involvement. Was she an innocent who was forced into helping for fear of her life or was she the mastermind who enticed James with promises of a carnal nature. Dr. Simon Jordan, a doctor of mental illness, is driven to find the truth.

This is a book that caused me to ponder. I was fascinated by the story yet repelled by the characters even as I sympathised with them. Grace tells her life story in such detail. She expresses her emotions through her narrative. The reader is drawn in along with Dr. Jordan to wonder if she is telling the truth or spinning a yarn. Then there is the secondary story of how this murderess is affecting Dr. Jordan's personal life. This too can be interpreted as either the draw of innocence or a masterful manipulation. By the end I still couldn't make up my mind.

This is not a quick and easy read. This is one of those books that is meant to be considered at length. Do I like these people? Can any of them be trusted? What the heck really happened? Can anyone know truth with certainty? What about the differences between the upper and lower classes? Do we all have the same discrepancies of character? There are so many questions that it brings up. Be prepared to grapple with them if you choose to read any of Atwood's books.

None of this is to say that it is difficult to understand. The writing is clear and effective. It makes an impression.

I was blown away with the integrity of the context. This book could have been written in the time that it is set. It didn't give a hint of modernity. There were no judgements based on the morals of the 20th or 21st centuries. That is not an easy thing to pull off. Atwood, I am a fan.

This book is a 3 for the price of 1. It counts for 3 challenges:
Canadian Writer for the Four Month Challenge
Set within the time frame for Our Mutual Read
Charity book for the 2010 because it was bought from a Friends of the Library sale


bermudaonion said...

I've never read any of Atwood's work either. I hope to remedy that in 2010.

Jenners said...

I don't think any of Margaret Atwood's books are "easy" reads. She really has something to say with every book. That being said, I haven't read all of them but the ones I've read have required some thought. Great review.

Susan O'Bryant said...

I'll admit - Atwood's works have always intimidated me. Numerous times, I've picked up one of her books, convinced myself I'd never be able to sit through such a complicated read, and put the book back on its shelf in the store.

I'm glad to read your review, and to learn that her work is actually understandable. Thought provoking doesn't have to mean incomprehensible, right? Right. So I think I'll add this to my to-read list, for when I am in the mood to delve into a novel and put my mind to work. Thanks for the information!

Susanne Barrett said...

I've only read her poetry, not her prose, and I found a similar timelessness in her verse as well. If I didn't already have a teetering stack of books waiting to be read already....

Love reading your reviews. :)

Anonymous said...

I loved this book and I love that the ending was quote open although you vertainly felt Atwood's opinion of what happened. Atwood fast became one of my favourite authors and I hope you read many more of her books.

Jenny said...

I read one of Atwood's books - The Handmaid's Tale - and although I loved it, I'm still intimidated by her other books! I want to read Alias Grace this year though.

Zibilee said...

This is another book I purchased recently. I am so glad to hear that it is so meaty and I am looking forward to it. Great review, I'm glad it resonated with you!

Melwyk said...

This is my favourite Atwood book, and I am glad to hear you enjoyed it. I agree, it is so perfectly set in its time, and the writing is so beautifully done. Not intimidating at all! :)