Spoiler free | Rating: 5 out of 5 stars | Read: 15 July – 28 July, 2018
‘If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged’
My first introduction to Alias Grace, and consequently Margaret Atwood, was the Netflix adaptation last November. I hurried through the show, not being able to get enough of it. Thankfully, the novel was no different. It was the show. The producers didn’t change or omit anything, not that I can remember anyway. This meant that I wasn’t disappointed by the book, which tends to happen when I watch adaptations first.
Alias Grace follows Grace Marks, a sixteen year old girl who has been convicted of a murder she cannot remember – that of her employer and his housekeeper. An up-and-coming expert in the field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek to pardon Grace. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories of that night in 1843?
I loved Atwood’s characterisation of Grace, as she had such depth to her person. Due to the nature of the narrative – Grace is recounting her life story to a doctor, and thus to us – I was able to unpick her with every new page. I think she’s a very likeable character. Whether she murdered Mr Kinnear and Nancy or not, the narrative allowed you to connect to her on a personal level. I ended up sympathising with Grace, and hoping for the best for her. As a woman who was persistently inspected by men (of power, religion and science), she remains a mystery. She cannot be comprehended, and her true self remains an enigma.
Additionally, I appreciated the portrayal of mental health. The novel in set in the mid-1800s when science was paving the way for a new line of thinking. Instead of demonising mental health victims, doctors tried to understand them. There is a battle between religion and science at play in the novel. Was Grace possessed by the devil, or Mary Whitney, or was she struggling with a mental illness? Why couldn’t she remember these murders? Grace’s mental health remained ambiguous (although, I definitely think Atwood leaned more one way than the other), but it was never painted negatively. I particularly liked this quote:
‘Gone mad is what they say, and sometimes Run mad, as if mad is a different 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’
I think Alias Grace was a sensitive re-imagining of a horrific event. The novel is a work of fiction but is based on reality. The murders of Mr. Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery did happen. Grace and McDermott were convicted of the murders. McDermott was hanged, and Grace was sentenced to life imprisonment. She was released after 29 years. Atwood thoroughly researched into this case, and stood closely to the facts. She mentions in her afterword that the ambiguous facts were the ones fictionalised but, even then, she chose the most possible outcome.
This was just a brilliant novel, and I’m glad it was my first introduction to Margaret Atwood. She discussed contemporary issues with a sensitive approach, such as the role of women, labour of the lower-classes, mental health, and identity. There was so much tucked inside this novel, and I loved getting to unpick it all. Alias Grace is definitely a new favourite of mine.
Have you read this? or anything else by Margaret Atwood? What did you think? I’d love to discuss it with you!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X
4 thoughts on “Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace:”
I’ve read a few reviews of this book and I’m so looking forward to reading it. So far I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale and The Heart Goes Last when it comes to Atwood’s work. The Handmaid’s Tale is, of course, wonderful, but I didn’t care for The Heart Goes Last very much. Just far too ridiculous to stomach.
Alias Grace is the only book by Atwood that I’ve read! I’m looking forward to reading more though! Hope you enjoy it 🙂
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