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Alias Grace: A Novel by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace: A Novel (edition 1997)

by Margaret Atwood (Author)

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9,478206478 (3.94)4 / 954
Title:Alias Grace: A Novel
Authors:Margaret Atwood (Author)
Info:Anchor (1997), Edition: Reprint, 468 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, Canada

Work details

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Recently added byopuscule, jacq_kellie, Zach5840, private library, laswan, rena75, iceiris, WendyABW, julieleighann
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English (195)  French (3)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Hungarian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (206)
Showing 1-5 of 195 (next | show all)
"If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged."

Alias Grace is a work of fiction but based on reality. In 1843 Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery were murdered. Fact. Grace Marks and James McDermott were convicted of the crime. Fact. McDermott was hanged, and Marks had her sentence commuted and sentenced to life in prison. Fact. There is no doubt that McDermott committed the murders but what was Grace's involvement? Even today no one knows for certain whether or to what degree she was involved, she was gave three differing accounts of the events whilst McDermott gave two.

In the novel, after a number of years as a 'celebrated murderess' incarcerated in Kingston Penitentiary, a group of Methodist well-wishers, including the prison Governor's wife, who are petitioning for Grace's release, solicit the help of an American psychologist, Dr. Simon Jordan, in the hope that he can assist their cause. Simon wants to start a private asylum of his own and hopes that his work with such an infamous felon will help him make a name for himself as an expert in mental illness and thus get financial backing for his scheme. Grace tells Simon her life’s story including her version of the murders. Slowly he becomes infatuated with her as his perspective become increasingly clowded when he starts a rather tawdry affair with his married landlady.

Whenever Grace is relating her tale to Simon she is invariably also making a quilt. Each section is named after a quilt pattern and accompanied with a corresponding illustration. This then becomes an important motif. The first section is in itself a patchwork of quotes, poems, and historical documents that set the stage for what will follow. This pattern is repeated throughout the book as Atwood pulls the threads of this story together whilst also asking the reader to assume that nothing is quite what it seems. You must look at both the dark and the light places of the pattern when trying to discern the truth when offered conflicting and unverifiable facts.

In this novel Atwood challenges the reader to determine Grace’s guilt or innocence. Personally I found own opinion constantly changing. On occasions I felt that she was a victim of circumstance and coercion but equally I could never completely exonerate her. Come the end of the book, I was still unsure.

This is the latest of Margaret Atwood's books that I've read and once again I found her a compelling and confident story teller. I went away and Googled Grace Marks and James McDermott and realised that there really is a sparsity of facts surrounding the case, as such I felt that Atwood does a great job of sewing the few scraps of history that do exist in to a very readable piece of fiction. One interesting technique that she employs is that the chapters about Simon are written in third person whilst the chapters featuring Grace are written in first person.

The book however, isn't without its faults IMHO. Given that this is ultimately a piece of fiction, there was a distinct lack of action meaning that it takes a while to really get going. That said and done I still think that it is worth persevering with as it has a lot to offer.

Now I'm off to watch the Netflix dramatisation of this book to see whether they think Grace is a dupe or a capable liar. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Feb 4, 2019 |
This isn't Alias Grace's fault, but this is the second really long book I've read in a row, and I was feeling exhausted by the end. I was hoping for some kind of twist ending because the rest of the novel seemed a little expected. From the start of the book, the end is already laid out, which made it feel anticlimactic. As with all Margaret Atwood novels, it's so well written that it was still enjoyable to read, however it's definitely in the bottom tier of her novels that I've read. ( )
  Katie_Roscher | Jan 18, 2019 |
En conclusión, Alias Grace es una novela con un valor ético y moral sobresalientes y que la han convertido en una obra referente en el movimiento feminista e, incluso, obrero. Y aunque su narrativa no es lo más subrayable, la aparente sencillez con la que Atwood transmite su mensaje es maravillosa y muy complicada de conseguir. Enriquecedora en muchos aspectos, original y rompedora, no deberías de tardar demasiado tiempo en darle una oportunidad. Pocas veces se topan con historias tan escalofriantes y esclarecedoras como la de Grace Marks.

Crítica completa en: https://alibreria.com/2018/01/29/alias-grace-de-margaret-atwood/ ( )
  MiriamBeizana | Dec 3, 2018 |
The stars aligned nicely when it was time for another title from 1001 Books and news came my way of a Margaret Atwood Reading Month at Consumed by Ink. I have been meaning to read Alias Grace for ages…
By the time Alias Grace was published to great acclaim, Atwood had already written eight novels. She has written so many now that Wikipedia groups them by decade, and Alias Grace sits with The Robber Bride in the 1990s as examples of novels in which female characters are deployed
"to question good and evil and morality through their portrayal of female villains. As Atwood noted about The Robber Bride, “I’m not making a case for evil behavior, but unless you have some women characters portrayed as evil characters, you’re not playing with a full range.” (Wikipedia, viewed 31/10/18)
Alias Grace also gets a mention at Wikipedia in the discussion about Atwood’s recurring themes. At first glance, the story of a convicted 19th century murderess who might or might not have been guilty doesn’t seem to be relevant to Atwood’s theory of Canadian Identity that, she says, is characterised by the symbol of survival and its garrison mentality. However, it makes sense in the context of victims and their oppressors in Canadian Lit:
"This symbol is expressed in the omnipresent use of “victim positions” in Canadian literature. These positions represent a scale of self-consciousness and self-actualization for the victim in the “victor/victim” relationship. The “victor” in these scenarios may be other humans, nature, the wilderness or other external and internal factors which oppress the victim". (Wikipedia, viewed 31/10/18)
What’s more, the form of Alias Grace—with its competing narrators; scraps of poetry and song; letters to and fro; and excerpts from newspaper reports and testimony—shows Atwood exploring the relation of history and narrative and the processes of creating history. And Atwood explores that explicitly through a feminist lens as you’d expect. (Mind you, Atwood is well known for rejecting the feminist tag, she calls her writing social realism

To read the rest of my review please visit.https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/11/01/alias-grace-by-margaret-atwood-bookreview/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Oct 31, 2018 |
Amazing Grace... eh, Margaret. Truly genius, only Atwood could produce this many-layered, dreamy, sordid, yet historically accurate story. She transports us into the life of a Canadian serving maid of the mid 19th century. We live and breathe the daily routine of the serving maid, from lighting the fire, doing the laundry, emptying the slop pail; she spares no detail, smells, sensations, color, dreams, thoughts, experiences. We see, hear, and think through Grace; all the while we have no idea what she says is real or invented; and if invented, is it to deceive, self-protect or a trick of her own mind.

Much of the book is devoted to the examination of psyche, the fledling science of psychology of the 19th century; dreams, associations. Dr Jordan arrives to untangle Grace’s mystery - and finds himself more entangled than he ever imagined - caught in the web of women, finding Grace way too smart and self-composed for a supposed lunatic and half-wit.

Atwood takes a journey through Grace’s mind, but also through the limited and perilous life of women of the time. Women, especially serving girls, must constantly guard their virtue, since no one wants to marry a girl with a sullied reputation; nor would hire them as maids. So if a girl gets pregnant out of wedlock, it is equivalent to be turned into the street and ousted from society; so many would kill themselves, turn to terrible doctors who would kill them through malpractice; or have the baby killed through “midwive’s mercy”. Girls are constantly assaulted by men; they promise marriage and reneg; joke, grab, pressure, harass, or forcefully rape; yet it is always the woman’s fault: a woman’s bad morals are devastating, a man’s are only mildly embarassing.

With all this, we get a complex story of jealousies and passions, of conflicting confessions and rememberances, a complex picture of flawed, yet very real, chatacters; servant’s intrigue, petty grievances, hypocricies; and a treatise on quilt patterns and hypnotism.

At the end, in true Atwood fashion, we end up with more questions than answers. We wonder, what truly happened, was she truly mad, who killed Nancy after all, was even Mary Withney a real person? Jeremiah, the peddler, serves us as a reminder that all this might be a conjuring trick - a trick that Atwood uses simply to hook us on a story, and gives us what we want - a thrill. ( )
1 vote Gezemice | Oct 29, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 195 (next | show all)
Margaret Atwood has always written her characters from the inside out. She knows them: in their hearts, their bones. For many years now she has been a stylist of sensuous power. In Alias Grace she has surpassed herself, writing with a glittering, singing intensity.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Hilary Mantel (pay site) (Dec 19, 1996)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Atwood, Margaretprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Drews, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pulice, Mario J.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walitzek, BrigitteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Whatever may have happened through these years, God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie.
—William Morris, "The Defence of Guenevere"
I have no Tribunal.
—Emily Dickinson, Letters
I cannot tell you what the light is, but I can tell you what it is not...What is the motive of the light? What is the light?
For Graeme and Jess
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Out of the gravel there are peonies growing.
When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood, like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.
It's 1851. I'll be twenty-four years old next birthday. I've been shut up in here since the age of sixteen. I am a model prisoner, and give no trouble.
Gone mad is what they say, and sometimes Run mad, as if mad is a direction, like west; as if mad is a different house you could step into, or a separate country entirely. But when you go mad you don't go any other place, you stay where you are. And somebody else comes in.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385490445, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:58 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A fictionalized account of Grace Marks, a maid who murdered her employer and his mistress in Canada in 1843. A stablehand who was her accomplice and who claimed she put him up to it was hung for the crime, while she ended up in a lunatic asylum. The novel analyzes the question: was she actually less guilty, crazy, or smarter?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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