Book Review: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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‘Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murdress.  Murdress. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor.’

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – 5/5 ⭐ 

Alias Grace, a historical fiction novel by  Margaret Atwood, is based on historical events surrounding servant Grace Marks. Marks was convicted of murder with James McDermott for their employer Thomas Kinnear, and the suspected murder of housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in 1843; there has been much debate and controversy over her culpability, and the extent to which she was involved in the crime. While Atwood is most famously known for her dystopian novels, such as the brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale, this was an extremely interesting feminist perspective and narrative to the story.

I don’t want to give too much away, as I’d highly recommend this novel, so I’m going to try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible!

My Favourite Aspects:

  • The ambiguous first person narration, interwoven with historical reports, poetry and newspaper articles.
  • The contrasting third person narrative of Simon Jordan, the psychologist who visits Grace in prison, and his attempt to recover her memories of the murders. The use of his correspondence to various outside figures, such as other doctors and his mother, are interwoven to the narrative and helps to reveal another flawed and complex character.
  • Atwood’s repeated reference to quilting patterns, to divide each section of the novel, is an interesting method to represent Grace and Simon’s need to assemble the patches to recover her memory.

After reading Alias Grace, Atwood is firmly one of my favourite authors!

The added fictional ending to Grace Marks’ story was a satisfying conclusion, but in terms of her guilt I’m still not sure what to think! The afterword shows Margaret Atwood recognises the limited accurate information available on Grace Marks, and this is used to Atwood’s advantage, as her beautiful writing shows complex ambiguity. The 19th century Gothic, medical and religious references really captured Grace’s intelligent and perceptive voice, and questioned the previous labelling of Marks as insane. With the oppressive setting of the prison, and the various traumatic events of Grace Marks’ life recounted throughout the novel, I was completely drawn into the story.

The use of an unreliable narrator, emphasised by often large passages with no punctuation really shows the uncertainty Grace feels telling someone else her life story. As her thoughts and speech are blended, it sometimes felt hard to follow the narrative, but this helped give an insight into the racism, sexual mistreatment and social inequality Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant to Canada in the early 19th century, would have faced.

The other characters in the novel which are fictional additions, such as Mary Whitney, Simon Jordan, and Jeremiah all help add more complexity and ambiguity to Alias Grace, and I really enjoyed Atwood’s invention of these characters to reveal various aspects of Grace’s life.

In 2017 Netflix released a new adaptation of Alias Grace, so I can’t wait to finally watch it now I’ve read the book!

I hope you enjoyed my first review, and please do let me know if you have any thoughts on Alias Grace or suggestions for improvements to my reviews!

Isabelle x

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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