Book Club: ‘Alias Grace’ by Margaret Atwood ****

The second book club choice which the lovely Susie at Girl With Her Head In a Book and I have decided upon is Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.    Whilst I have found some of Atwood’s work a little hit and miss in the past, I was very much looking forward to engrossing myself in this, an incredibly appealing-sounding historical novel.  Of all her works, the thread of story within Alias Grace is the one which captured my attention the most.

Alias Grace was shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, and was the recipient of the Canadian Giller Prize.  The novel has received wondrous acclaim from reviewers since its publication in 1996. It centres around the true story of Grace Marks, a servant who was arrested for her ‘cold-blooded’ part in two notorious murders in July 1843, at the age of sixteen.  Thomas Kinnear, a wealthy farmer in Ontario, and his housekeeper-cum-mistress, Nancy Montgomery, were shot and strangled respectively.  Grace’s co-worker and accomplice, a twenty-year-old stable hand named James McDermott, was hung for his part in proceedings.  Grace, on account of her sex and young age, was committed to an asylum in Kingston, Ontario, where she remained for thirty years.

Atwood is masterful at using a variety of different techniques to set the scene throughout.  As well as the story told in Grace’s own words – or, at least, Atwood’s imagining of them – we also have a narrative based upon a fictional doctor named Simon Jordan, who is researching Grace’s case.  Materials such as newspaper articles and poems have also been used to further shape the historical context.

Alias Grace is beautifully written.  Grace’s voice particularly has been incredibly tautly crafted, and Atwood’s portrayal of her feels realistic from the very beginning: ‘Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: murderess, murderess.  It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.  Murderer is merely brutal.  It’s like a hammer, a lump of metal.  I would rather be a murderess than a murderer, if those are the only choices’.  Grace is a captivating protagonist; although we know from the first what she has been convicted of, an awful lot of sympathy is soon created for her on behalf of the reader.  Atwood is empathetic towards her young character, and makes her come to life once more upon the page.

Whilst I didn’t adore Alias Grace, it is certainly an incredibly well-crafted – and even quite moving – novel, and it is my favourite of Atwood’s books to date.  I particularly admired the way in which she tied so many historical elements together – the use of historical quilt designs and foodstuffs, for example.  Alias Grace, despite its length, is a gripping and fast-moving novel, which is sure to appeal to any reader with an interest in crime or general historical fiction.

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18 thoughts on “Book Club: ‘Alias Grace’ by Margaret Atwood ****

  1. This is one of my favourite Atwoods so I’m so glad you enjoyed it. My favourite, though, will always be “The Blind Assassin”.

  2. Because of a little reading slump, I only managed to read about half of the book so far. So my first participation in your book club is not a successful one. But I can agree with all of the points you make in your review, and I enjoy reading the book. What slowed me down in the beginning was that it reminded me a lot of Burial Rites, which is still very fresh in my mind after reading it last year. I had to stop myself from constantly making comparisons between the two books.

    • Oh, that’s quite alright! Please do let us know what you think of it when you finish reading, and I’m so pleased you’re enjoying it so far! I found myself continually comparing it to ‘Burial Rites’ too – they’re very similar in a lot of ways.

  3. I haven’t read this but I have just read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and this was likened to Alias Grace by the critics. I really enjoyed it and think you would too based on this post 🙂

    • I read ‘Burial Rites’ last year and thoroughly enjoyed it; I agree that the comparisons between both are quite striking! Thanks so much for your comment, and I hope you enjoy ‘Alias Grace’ if and when you read it. 🙂

    • Fabulous! I’m loving your review (Blogspot still won’t let me comment!) and your takes on the themes within it! I’ve just requested ‘The Tent’ from the library, so am looking forward to seeing what that’s like, and how it compares. I am thank you – hope you are too! 🙂 xx

  4. I’m so glad to see you enjoyed this, Kirsty 🙂 It was the longest Atwood novel I’ve read so far, and even though I found some of the descriptions of Grace’s early life too detailed, I am really satisfied with it. I always enjoy Atwood’s humour (especially in the way Dr. Jordan fled from Mrs. Humphrey’s house near the end) and her writing style is absolutely compelling. I gave it 4 stars as well 🙂 Thank you for hosting this readalong! I’m really eager to read more of Atwood’s works.

    • Thank you, lovely, and likewise! She’s a very witty author, isn’t she? I love all of the humorous asides too – they helped to break up the more intense aspects of the plot for me. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! Same here! I’ve just requested ‘The Tent’ from my local library, so I’m excited to see what her short stories are like.

      • Indeed, the humour worked really well in this novel, and I’m glad she included it in the perfectly right amounts. ‘The Tent’ sounds really intriguing! I had ordered it from AwesomeBooks last month (along with many other books – I never seem to learn when to stop buying :P) and I’m waiting for my mom to send it to my Athens address. I’m excited to see what you thought of it 🙂

      • Yes, definitely! Oh, same here – I’m ridiculous when it comes to book-buying, especially with secondhand books! They’re just so cheap and so easy to buy, aren’t they? Brilliant – I hope you get them soon! I had to cancel my request for it because of upcoming holidays not fitting in with library borrows – I’ll hopefully get to it soon though. Look forward to hearing what you think of it!

      • Uh, second hand books are the worst to resist to, precisely because of their ridiculously low prices! I have been so tempted to buy cheap books lately, but I’ve managed to -mostly- hold back. Same here! I hope you get around to reading it soon enough so we can talk about it 🙂

      • I wish I had your willpower! Thanks so much, lovely – I’m planning on reading like a fiend for the foreseeable, so I’m hoping I can get to it soon!

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