Monday, 12 April 2010

My Thoughts: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

I first discovered Margaret Atwood when I was 17. I had to read A Handmaid's Tale for my A Levels along with 4 other pieces of protest literature (The Colour Purple, 1984, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest), it was this course which changed my degree choice from Law (I wanted to be a Legal Secretary specialising in family law) to English Literature, I can't imagine how my like would have turned out! As soon as read The Handmaid's Tale I went out and brought a stack of Margaret Atwood books which I've gradually read over the (12 -ouch!) years, I still have The Robber Bride to go.

Alias Grace is a fictionalised novel based on a real murderess Grace Marks, she was widely famous in Canada in the early 19th century being charged with 2 counts of murder at just 16. Alias Grace is a mismatch of narratives and writing regarding this women and those she came into contact with. The main proportion of the story are Grace's story to her Doctor, Dr Jordan. Claiming to be unable to recount the murders she details her life from him, from the journey from Canada to England, the methods of bleaching clothes and the details of her acquintances downfalls - she is certainly an unreliable narrator. Being shown her wondering what to tell Dr Jordan and how to phrase her story allows us to feel, but also know, that we are in the same position as he is, we are being fed a story - which elements are true or not we shall not discover.

The novel is also interspersed with Dr Jordan's complicated life, his desires for every woman he see's, his correspondence with his pushy mother, his friends and work collegues. As well as newspaper cuttings, quotations from Grace Marks' biographer, pshycoanalysists and poets who wrote about her.

Threaded throughout the story are refernced to patchwork quilts and their various patterns, especially those ones which turned one way show one image but looked at from a different viewpoint show a whole new picture. That is what this story is like, as a reader we sometimes feel she is guilty as sin, sometimes we believe her spiritual version of the murders and at other points her coyness leads us to believe she is just an innocent caught up in a crime. Well worth a read.


Peta said...

This was the first Atwood book I ever read and I remember that I enjoyed it so much that I went out and bought pretty much every book she'd written. Reading your review reminds me that it's been years since I read it and I might have to rectify that. It might also be about time to re-read The Handmaid's Tale as that's one hell of a book.

Shelley said...

I still have only read The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace, but I consider myself a fan of Atwoods. I really need to discover more!