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!

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Filed under: Book Reviews,Giller Prize — Ibis at 5:22 pm on Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From the dust jacket:
“Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though he discovers that the real woman, Dido Paris, is even more than he imagined.

Dido and Harry are part of a cast of eccentric, utterly beguiling characters. all transplants from elsewhere, who form an unlikely group at the station. Their loves and longings, their rivalries and entanglements, the stories of their pasts and what brought each of them to the North, form the centre. Then, one summer, four of them embark on a canoe trip that takes them into the Arctic wilderness, following the route taken by the legendary Englishman John Hornby, who, along with his small party, starved to death.”

Other useful links:
the not-so-useful Wikipedia article on Late Nights on Air
the Wikipedia article on Yellowknife, NWT
the Wikipedia article on Great Slave Lake
the Wikipedia article on Elizabeth Hay
the Wikipedia article on barren-ground caribou
Elizabeth Hay’s website

My thoughts:
I met Elizabeth Hay when she did a reading from this (as yet unpublished) novel. I enjoyed it so much I bought another book of hers (as yet unread) & put Late Nights on my mental To Be Read stack. So when it won the Giller, I knew I just had to read it for real and luckily enough, received a copy for Christmas (2007).

I’ve had a fascination with the North (and what born n’ bred Canadian doesn’t?) since I read Laura Beatrice Berton’s I Married the Klondike, so I was looking forward to going back North of 60.

At first I had a difficult time sorting out who was who, with two women from outside trying to make it into radio (in fact, I actually had to start reading over again after about 30 pp). I found the backdrop of the Berger inquiry very interesting, and I loved the whole middle act of the book—the journey across the Barrens retracing John Hornby’s 1927 expedition. I didn’t really warm up to Harry, Gwen or Dido so much & I couldn’t stand Eddy. Also, the ‘epilogue’ was really, quite disappointing.