Alias Grace

by Margaret Atwood

Read this in about 6 minutes

In 19th century, the world saw a craze. Craze of different sort of mental illnesses them being used as an evidence in favour of criminals. Lunacy and its different sides were explored. Sleepwalking, hypnosis, playing with memory and trance were topics rather outspoken at dinner table. It was the fresh meat, a sort of magic trick everyone wanted to learn about. I have loved Margaret Atwood since Handmaid’s Tale which was the first book I read from her. After that came the Hag-seed which I liked but never did really love. Alias Grace is my third book by the author and a great reminder of why I loved her in the first place.

Cover: Alias Grace

Cover Page

The books have been published by different publishing houses over the time with different covers. I own a kindle copy with a shot from the Netflix series on the cover. I despise the movie-tie-in covers. I think they cut the strings of the inside to the outside.

However, if you are planning to buy a paperback then there are multiple covers to choose from.

Characters

The book is primarily the story of Grace Marks who is serving a sentence for a crime she may or may not have committed. There are speculations about her innocence but she herself can’t say for sure if she is innocent. In her own words, ‘If I am good enough and quiet enough, perhaps after all they will let me go; but it’s not easy being quiet and good, it’s like hanging on to the edge of a bridge when you’ve already fallen over; you don’t seem to be moving, just dangling there, and yet it is taking all your strength’. Grace Marks is a timid woman who just wishes to be released. She has deep down buried emotions that need to come out and help Dr Jordon to make a case for her. Dr Jordon tries hard to decode Grace. Dr Jordon looks into neural cases and hopes to make a name for him with Grace Mark’s case.

Apart from these two characters there are those who surround Grace and inhabit in her mind. Some more dangerous than the others.

Content

The reason they want to see me is that I am a celebrated murderess. Or that is what has been written down.

Grace Marks was just over twelve when she immigrated to Canada with her father and siblings. Her mother was supposed to accompany them but she passed away owing to a disease. Grace Marks gave a dissatisfactory funeral to her mother, dumping her into the sea, and brought away the leftover goods of her mother which she thought could be usable to her and the siblings.

Graces hops from households to households staying with them to help them with the work around. She meets her friend Mary Whitney in one such house and appears as if Mary has latched on to her even after she is dead. Grace elopes from her last house after the owner and the housekeeper are killed by the stable man and supposedly she helped him to.

Both are caught. The ‘man’ gets hanged in front of the crowd whereas the ‘woman’ of the team is sentenced to life.

Margaret Atwood wrote the draft of the first chapter of the novel in a hotel room after a she was convinced that Grace was the killer only to tear the sheet later when she realized she does not know that for sure.

Atwood, in her novel, explores the different dimensions of the case and the reasons why Grace’s case makes for a commotion in a quiet room.

The society’s bias towards the female counterpart, the strong belief that a timid beautiful girl who was barely sixteen could not have committed the murder is bare. Her paramour must have dragged her down the rabbit hole and she was scared of her life. There is a contradictory opinion in which Grace is the doe-eyed slut, a bate in which McDermott falls when he kills the owner and his mistress.

There is a lot of character assassination and emotional cajoling. And nothing comes to a conclusion. The media paints different pictures and ‘And I wonder, how can I be all of these different things at once?’ in Grace’s words.

Dr Jordon, to her respite, is sent to analyse her and make a report of any mental disorder that she may face that could help people make a case for her who are trying to save her. Dr Jordon is nothing but mesmerized by her. He believes that she is innocent but then he does not have any evidence. Different mental disorders are explored. A clear picture of the society is painted.

The book begins with the notes form media and poems written that somehow relate to the case but eventually fade away to give Grace a voice.

The novel is a thriller made out of a real case. Atwood explores different dimensions while working on the novel and plots it elegantly. There is a flow which those who have read ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ will understand.

Language

The book is written in first person. It is narrated by Grace herself with some portions from Dr Jordon. I was thinking over it hard and words like ‘timid’, ‘reserved’ and dim-witted came to my mind while describing Grace’s parts. But it is ‘witless’ that I zeroed upon. Grace does not want to give away points that would inhibit her release. She is careful but all in all she is witless. Her spirit is dying and so are her desires. ‘If you have a need and they find it out, they will use it against you. The best way is to stop from wanting anything.’

As for the novel itself, it is written in first person. Atwood has a beautiful narrative style that keeps you on the edge. It is literary at the same time filled with thrill.

Good points

The characters are beautifully carved. The plot and narration are the soul of the book.

Bad points

I did not like the cover much which is okay given it was a kindle copy.

Overall

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite women authors. This one is as good as Handmaid’s Tale, if not better.

Whom do I recommend this to

This book is for all Atwood lovers. Those who like a good plot with stunning narration are going to love this one too.

Quotable Quotes

At the time of my visit, there were only forty women in the Penitentiary. This speaks much for the superior moral training of the feebler sex.

Romantic people are not supposed to laugh, I know that much from looking at the pictures.

Where there’s a doctor it’s always a bad sign. Even when they are not doing the killing themselves it means a death is close, and in that way they are like ravens or crows.

People dressed in a certain kind of clothing are never wrong. Also they never fart.

Once you start feeling sorry for yourself they’ve got you where they want you.

Buy the book

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com