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Friday, February 26, 2010

Alias Grace

Alias Grace
by Margaret Atwood
480 pages

*** About the Book ***

The facts: In a small town near Toronto in 1843, two people are murdered. Two other people are accused and stand trial. One is convicted of murder and hanged. The other is convicted as an accessory and sentenced to life in prison, despite her claim that she remembers nothing of the day in question. That person is 16 year old Grace Marks. For the next 30 years she is kept in prison, with occasional visits to the insane asylum. Then she is released and there are no further records of her life.

The book: Atwood takes the few facts of the case that are available and fleshes out a story explaining one possible way that Grace ended up accused of murder. She creates a fictional doctor who visits Grace in an attempt to reconstruct her memories of the murder. Did she do it? If so, was she the mastermind or an unwilling victim? Was she in her right mind or was she insane? This book presents some possible answers but leaves much to the interpretation of the reader.

*** Why I Read It ***

This is my book club’s pick for February. I’d heard great things about it so even though it isn’t one I would have ever chosen to read on my own, I was excited to read it.

*** My Thoughts ***

Wow, Margaret Atwood can WRITE! Regardless of my thoughts on the story itself I have to admire her for the beauty and flow of her writing.

That said, I did really like this book. I was afraid that it would be too graphic (I really don’t enjoy reading about murders) but it was not at all; the book was less about what actually happened to the murder victims and more about what Grace remembers about all of it.

I loved the period detail included in the book: the current state of medical thought including the emerging field of psychoanalysis, the state of the prison system, political unrest in Canada (about which I was completely ignorant), the daily functioning of a household and it’s servants, and so on. There was just so much here!

There are still things that I don’t understand about parts of the story, and of course there are many unanswered questions simply because the true facts are unknown. But I think this book will be an excellent one to discuss with my club and I’m very glad that I read it.

And I have to say that it was a bit odd doing two Atwood books in the same month (I reviewed the other book yesterday) ... I'm still not sure how I feel about that. I'm finding myself comparing them too often, so I don't think I'd do two such different books by the same author so close to each other again.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you read this book? Or any others by Atwood? Do you like books that fictionalize true history?
  • things mean a lot says this is her favorite by Atwood and gives a very thorough review
  • my book club discussed this at our last meeting
  • other reviews? post your link in the comments and I'll add it here.


Rebecca Reid said...

I was going to say the same thing: that I can't read about murders. But this sounds like it has so much more. Thanks for sharing about it.

Diane said...

I love the way you write your reviews.I have not read this one but plan to. Great review Heather

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

This has been on my shelf for years! I think I had started reading it a long, long time ago, but put it down and never got back to it. I consistently hear good things about it. i just need to get it back on my radar.

Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I've been meaning to read this one. I'm on the fence abut Atwood, due to a very bad professor and a whole class on Atwood. Did I mention that we over analyzed her poems on The Journals of Suzanna Moodie? However, I did pick up The Handmaid's Tale on my own last year, and really enjoyed it. I want to give her another chance, maybe this will be my next Atwood read.

Kay said...

I read this one years ago and when I was thinking of books for my book club, I remembered this one. I'm glad that you liked it. No, as I recall, it is not a typical mystery, which is why it would probably work well for my regular book group. I have not read any other Atwood books. Probably too literary for me. Murder books are fine with me. :-)

bermudaonion said...

I would probably like this one better than Atwood's dystopian literature. Great review.

Heather J. said...

Rebecca - You might really like this one - there's so much more to it than the actual murders (NOT a thing I like to read about at all, but it didn't really bother me in this book).

Diane - Thanks! That means a lot.

Nicole - Some of my book club thought it got off to a slow (and confusing) start but it was very worth it.

Jennifer - I can't imagine! Just the few references to Moodie in this book made me roll my eyes. But do give this one a shot - pretend it isn't by Atwood, maybe that will help! ~LOL~

Kay - Your club usually reads mysteries, right? This one would definitely give you the chance to come to your own conclusions on the suspect's guilt or innocence.

bermudaonion - DEFINITELY better than Handmaid's Tale, IMO. :)

Bybee said...

I have liked fictionalizations of historical events, but lately, I find myself preferring the nonfiction version.

mominsanity said...

I *heart* Margaret Atwood. She's my favorite author of all time. I love, especially, her dystopian fiction but I also really liked Cat's Eye. She's fantastic.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I just finished Atwood's The Blind Assassin and really loved it, but feel like Atwood is an author I should space out a little bit. Her books are just so grand and wonderful and thinky that I can't imagine not comparing them if read too close together. That said, I've been in the process of collecting Atwood books from used book stores, but was always not sure about this one. I'm glad to hear it's good.

Lulu said...

This is one of my all time favourite novels. You're right, the way Atwood writes is extraordinary - still to this day I can hear the swish of Graces's skirts as she walks...

Heather J. said...

Bybee - In general I'm with you on that!

mominsanity - I can see why. :)

Kim - DEFINITELY get this one, it is a great read.

Lulu - Ooh yes, I agree!

Sue said...

I'm so glad to hear you liked it. I must be alone in never having read anything by Atwood, but I just ordered Alias Grace a few days ago from Amazon - it's my book group's March pick and now I'm really looking forward to it!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I really want to read Atwood. I have yet to do this.

Valerie said...

I haven't ever read Atwood yet, but recently picked up her short story collection "Moral Disorder". Maybe this will be a good way for me to try her out!

Heather J. said...

Sue - Please come back and let me know how our book club discussion goes! Did you check out the link I posted to my club's discussion? We had a great time with this book!

Sheila - I highly recommend starting with this one.

Valerie - I haven't heard of that one - must check it out!

Anna said...

Glad to hear you liked it. I bought this book at a library sale awhile back but haven't read it yet. Aside from The Handmaid's Tale, the only other Atwood book I've read is Life Before Man...and I kept comparing it to The Handmaid's Tale. Unfortunately, from what I remember, it didn't measure up.

Diary of an Eccentric

Amanda said...

I tried reading this a long while back and just couldn't get into it. I definitely think it was one of those "I just wasn't in the right frame of mind" type of books.

Heather J. said...

Anna - It is pretty hard to compare this to HANDMAID since the topics are so completely different. But then again, they both deal with gender roles and repressed women, so maybe they aren't that different after all ...

Amanda - I know that feeling!

irisonbooks said...

I don't enjoy reading about murder either, but your review convinced me that even though that might be the case, I really need to pick up Alias Grace. Thank you for the great review.

Heather J. said...

irisonbooks - I'm so glad! This book was truly not what I expected it to me, and it had very little to say about the murders themselves. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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