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Alias Grace Paperback – 16 Aug 2001
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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.
A sensuous, perplexing book, at once sinister and dignified, grubby and gorgeous, panoramic yet specific...I don't think I have ever been so thrilled...This, surely is as far as a novel can go (Julie Myerson, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)
Brilliant...Atwood's prose is searching. So intimate it seems to be written on the skin (Hilary Mantel)
Margaret Atwood is to be congratulated (Anita Brookner, SPECTATOR)
The outstanding novelist of our age (Peter Kemp, SUNDAY TIMES)
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Top customer reviews
The reader is always in doubt about Marks's culpability in the murders as various points of view present themselves in the novel, including Grace's own. The way into the story is offered by the (perhaps fictitious and composite) doctor Simon Jordan, whose research into the case involves personal interviews with Grace, as she describes the events leading up to the murders and after, even as he becomes visibly enamoured with the subject of his research.
In parts humorous and farcical (especially in Jordan's entanglements with his landlady, while warding off his mother's domineering interference with his life both marital and professional through her letters from afar), Atwood creates not just an ambivalent heroine in Grace as the latter constructs and deconstructs her narrative, but Atwood also casts a keen eye on the way men and women relate to one another, with almost alarmingly misogynistic overtones (tongue-in-cheek or otherwise). Atwood also proffers views on the scientific advancements of those times, and reveals the obsessions with mesmerism and spiritualism, that serve to colour and complicate Grace's case.
As much a commentary on the problem of identity or identities of self, the novel is also an examination of how the truth can be constructed by narrative as much as it remains nebulous and unfathomable.
I'll buy it for friends so that I can discuss it with them!