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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace (edition 1997)

by Margaret Atwood

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9,448210500 (3.94)4 / 963
Title:Alias Grace
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Virago, Softcover
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:other, giveaway

Work details

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

  1. 90
    The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (girlunderglass)
    girlunderglass: Both books share the impressive power of beautifully and believably conveying a particular place and time - they make the reader not only understand and love the peculiarities of a particular era, but also temporarily feel part of it.
  2. 92
    Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue (ainsleytewce, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Based on sensational true crimes of yesteryear, these character-driven historical novels focus on young women whose attempts to escape lives of poverty and abuse lead to violence. Both disturbing, suspenseful books present nuanced psychological portraits of their protagonists.… (more)
  3. 51
    Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (wonderlake)
  4. 30
    Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: It's difficult to explain this recommendation without revealing spoilers for either novel. Both are set in the 19th century, feature strong female narrators and concern a crime - and that's all I can say!
  5. 30
    The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb (rbtanger)
    rbtanger: Both are historicals about female murderers. And both are equally haunting and mysterious with a good pull at the beginning and a good twist to the end.
  6. 20
    Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: The Polished Hoe portrays conditions in 20th-century Jamaica, while Burial Rites focuses on 19th-century Iceland, but these exquisitely detailed literary historical novels explore the lives of unusually intelligent women whose treatment by their masters has resulted in terrible crimes.… (more)
  7. 20
    His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnet (cbl_tn)
    cbl_tn: Both are Booker shortlisted novels that tell the story of a historical crime. Atwood's is based on a real crime.
  8. 42
    Possession: A Romance by A. S. Byatt (KayCliff)
  9. 10
    The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen (rbtanger)
    rbtanger: The Bone Garden is set a decade earlier than alias Grace, but the atmosphere and feel of the story are very similar.
  10. 10
    The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola (JoEnglish)
  11. 00
    See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Anonymous user)
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    Little Deaths by Emma Flint (Anonymous user)
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    In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse (AliceWonders)
  14. 11
    Affinity by Sarah Waters (starbox, souloftherose)
  15. 11
    A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore (1Owlette)
    1Owlette: Although set at different times and in different countries, both works explore similar themes of isolation, marginalization, and the effect of social pressures upon women's mental states, in haunting, beautiful prose.
  16. 14
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1990s (11)
Canada (25)
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English (197)  French (3)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Hungarian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (208)
Showing 1-5 of 197 (next | show all)
Very engaging story told through different point of views, letters, etc... with a lot of details about life in the 19th century in Canada (mostly). Some times a bit too much details to be frank, but still interesting overall. ( )
  Guide2 | Jun 8, 2019 |
I am all in and then some for Margaret Atwood's speculative fiction (and I'm including [b:Hag-Seed|28588073|Hag-Seed|Margaret Atwood|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1463887982s/28588073.jpg|49490147] in this category) but after DNF'ing [b:The Blind Assassin|78433|The Blind Assassin|Margaret Atwood|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1451445426s/78433.jpg|3246409] (dull lead character despite an increasingly interesting plot), I've been leery of reading her other books. But I found the Atwood genius is alive and well in this one. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
More like 3.5, but I can't quite give it a 4, which isn't entirely the book's fault. Part of its power lies in the reader's anticipation of answers. Having watched the Netflix series first, I knew too much going into the book. This turns out to be one of those books about which I both liked a lot (the wry humor; the mystery itself; the complexity of Grace's POV; the attention to detail and the skillful weaving of story patterns, like the quilts that are the book's primary motif) and disliked a lot (periodic verbosity that left me slogging; the unlikable character and journey of Dr. Jordan which, based on the author's afterword, is entirely fictional and never felt necessary to me even when I thought he might be part of the historical narrative).

I meant to read this one after [b:The Handmaid's Tale|38447|The Handmaid's Tale|Margaret Atwood|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1498057733s/38447.jpg|1119185], but somehow I jumped to the front of the library queue, so I went ahead and tackled it first. I enjoyed this enough, overall, that I'll still read that one. ( )
  AmandaGStevens | Mar 2, 2019 |
"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."

Alias Grace combines the suspense of Dreiser's An American Tragedy and literary style of Mantel's Wolf Hall. However, it never quite matches the attractions of those two great novels. Atwood loosely follows the true story of a double homicide in the 1840s, where a supposed couple is charged with murder but only the man is executed. She includes numerous news clippings and transcripts as well as, in my opinion unnecessary, lines from contemporaneous authors (Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tennyson). The novel switches between the perspectives of murderess Grace Marks and Dr Simon Jordan, tasked with ascertaining whether Grace is guilty or deranged.

The novel touches on a number of issues relevant to this setting: mental illness, class disparity, treatment of women, mysticism, justice, religion, civil war. The core plot systematically traces Grace's relationships, chronologically and through flashbacks: we meet her drunkard father, constantly pregnant mother, fellow maid Mary, doctor Simon, pedlar Jeremiah, as well as the murdered couple and convicted accomplice James McDermott. The events in question, as in the actual case, are shrouded in mystery. Grace herself gives various versions of what happened. Intermingled in this narration are Grace's and Simon's dreams, which further promote an addled impression of events.

Although I liked this novel, I never really felt I was in the 1840s, nor did I feel the epistolary components were believable. There is a diverting subplot of Dr Jordan's love live, the correspondence with his mother, his own fragile mental state and involvement in the civil war. The social commentary and descriptive passages are largely superficial, the medical dialogue vague, and many of the first person ramblings lacked any structure. Yet the novel is highly readable and certainly accessible to a wide audence. My favourite passages include Grace's feminist witticisms.

Favourite Quotes

"The ship was lying alongside the dock; it was a heavy hulking brute that had come across from Liverpool, and later I was told that it brought logs of wood eastward from the Canadas, and emigrants westward the other way, and both were viewed in much the same light, as cargo to be ferried."

"You would have thought she was trading a horse; I was surprised she did not ask to look at my teeth, but I suppose if you pay out wages you want to get a good return on them."

"It was the only church built there so far, and many who were not by rights members of that church attended it, as being better than nothing; and it had the only graveyard in town as well, so held a monopoly of the dead as well as of the living."

"As I’ve said, Sir, she was in the family way, and it often happens like that with a man; they’ll change from a woman in that condition to one who is not, and it’s the same with cows and horses; and if that happened, she’d be out on the road, her and her bastard."

"Like my namesake the apostle, I have cast my nets into deep waters; though unlike him, I may have drawn up a mermaid, neither fish nor flesh but both at once, and whose song is sweet but dangerous." ( )
  jigarpatel | Feb 27, 2019 |
"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 |
Showing 1-5 of 197 (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)

» Add other authors (13 possible)

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
First words
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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