Alias Grace

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Thoughts Before Reading:

I actually read this for a history class…

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I know, sweet right! It was a history of the novel class so we read novels and historical fiction novels throughout time.

So here I am posting my review from the class.

One of most fascinating and perplexing parts of Alias Grace is the way in which the author, Margaret Atwood, chooses to narrate the story. She scripts her tale in many different ways so we are given a multitude of views on the subject of whether Grace Marks is a murderess. Along with these assorted depictions, the way in which Grace expresses her story is also mind-bending.

Alias Grace is written in two narratives; first there is Grace revealing her actions in first person and second Dr. Simon Jordan who is told in third person. Along with these we are given letters from people involved in the case of petitioning for a pardon; the Reverend Enoch Verringer, trying to help Grace win her freedom, and Dr. Samuel Bannerling, trying to keep her in.

While the letters evoke the sensibilities of what people would have felt at the time, Dr. Jordan fulfills the reader’s point of view. As he eagerly attempts to get Grace to speak on what happened that night, and to shed more light on the events and characters, the reader hungrily awaits with him. For those who have not grown up in Canada and had never heard of the story before, they can hardly wait for Grace to tell her tale. Dr. Jordan also invokes the doubts and concerns the reader has about Grace, as they too wonder if she is telling the truth or “spinning a yarn”. His view told in third person, only reinforces the idea of his voyeurism into Grace’s life, and our, the reader’s, voyeurism into theirs.

Grace however, has the most interesting narrative style of all. We are told her story from her lips, but yet at the same time we are struck with the idea of not knowing everything about her. In most stories told in first person, one really learns who the character is; how they feel on subjects, are privy to their emotions, can see their deepest desires, and can easily comprehend whether the character is lying or telling the truth. However, in this case we never fully know who Grace is. She tells us many things about herself, but always remains cool and collected, never fully opening up.

In fact one never knows if what Grace tells the doctor or tells herself is fact or fiction. Grace states in the beginning how she learned to act in the way her keepers wanted her to, and that she knew how to give people the things they wanted to hear, (for example making up the dream for Dr. Jordan). That leaves us with the ever-looming question of “what really happened?”. Even when Grace relates the night of the murder, Atwood chose to have it told in Dr. Jordan’s third person view to continue to keep us in the dark. When Grace goes under a trance and manifests as “Mary Whitney” we are also shown that in the third person, and never told how much of the hypnotism was acting and how much real. Did Jeremiah tell her to act as if she was possessed by Mary’s spirit? Or did she come up with the idea of using Mary as her “Mrs. Bates”?

Besides the trouble of trying to shift around to seek the truth, Atwood chose to have Grace’s point of view written without correct punctuation, therefore causing us to never know what is actually spoken aloud and what only reverberates through her head. Did she tell Dr. Jordan everything she tells the reader she tells him, or is she lying to herself and the viewer? Interestingly enough, it almost seems as if Atwood made Grace aware of the reader’s presence, toying with telling us what she wants to, but still always guarded from revealing the whole truth.

Hmm…

This book was a highly entertaining psychological thriller, who’s narrations play within your mind as to what is truth and what are lies, along with what is insanity and what is lucidity; leaving the readers with a sense of never being able to have their questions answered. Atwood trifles with the reader’s mind, giving them breadcrumbs and a trail to follow to find the truth, but in the end leaving one as mixed up as ever as to what really transpired.

For more historical fiction mysteries, go to The Falling Machine

For more mysteries based on a real person, go to The Hyde Park Murder

For more books from my history class, go to High Road to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft

For more not in a series mysteries, go to The Andromeda Strain

For more book reviews, go to Midnight in Austenland