CanLit Challenge Book #41: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Filed under: Book Reviews,CanLit Challenge,Giller Prize,Man Booker Prize — Ibis at 2:37 pm on Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book 41, Alias Grace (1996) – Margaret Atwood
“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.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia entry for Alias Grace

My thoughts:
This was a very good book, possibly my favourite of Atwood’s so far. So many layers of meaning and a wonderfully unreliable narrator. She had me guessing the entire time: manipulative? a psychopath who merely reflects back what her interlocutors expect? a victim of early abuse and tragedy who’s put out of her mind when faced with trauma and never really regains herself? or a placid philosopher who takes things as they come and reports things as they happened? And what of Dr. Jordan? and Jeremiah? and Jamie Walsh? People appear and disappear and are never surely who they seem to be. Loved it!

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