My apologies for not getting this post up on time. I've been crazy busy with a new job and a bunch of late-May birthday activities (my mother, Ryan, and Ryan's mother - have I mentioned both of our mother's names are Annette? Spooky.) that I was able to finish the book on time, but didn't have a chance to post my final thoughts. Better late than never, right?
Warning: final thoughts contain spoilers.
Anyhow, back to Alias Grace. Man, is this book a mind-f*ck, and I'm saying that in the best possible way. The novel follows Grace Marks, a 16-year-old Canadian servant girl who is convicted of the murder of her employer and his mistress. It takes place in the mid 1800's and lays out Grace's past and the controversy surrounding her trail; many believed her to be innocent while others vehemently encouraged her incarceration. Grace herself claims to have no memory of the night these murders took place. The story is told in a double narrative with chapters alternating from Grace's story, to the point of view of Dr. Simon Jordon, the doctor who is interviewing her in hopes of bringing her memories of the crime to the surface. The story itself is a patchwork, combining a variety of actual interview snipits and Atwood's own take on the story. The murders themselves were sensationalized to the point that Grace Marks became one of the most well-known criminals in 19th century Canada. We aren't ever given a definitive answer as to what truly happened, but rather allowed to decide for ourselves as Atwood outlines the details, both fictional and factual, for us.
One reoccurring theme that struck me from the beginning of the novel and remained prominent throughout was the idea that nothing is what it seems. I found this theme especially prominent when Grace described her dreams, or we were taken into a dream sequence of hers. Things she saw or touched quickly transformed into something artificial. Grace describes a detailed dream in the second half of the novel, to which she ends with this:
But as my sight cleared, I saw that they were not birds at all. They had a human form, and they were the angels whose white robes were washed in blood, as it says at the end of the Bible; and they were sitting in silent judgment upon Mr. Kinnear's house, and on all within it. And then I saw that they had no heads.Many of my favorite novels are those that don't outwardly explain what exactly happens, but instead let the reader decide. With that said, I felt that I had a hard time fully getting into this novel, as the narration was very distanced and the tone quite bitter. I can see why many readers mark this novel for a reread; there are so many details to digest and so many pieces to the novel, some that fit and others that don't. I think I could extract a lot more from this novel through a reread.
In addition, the story as a whole was more subtle than I expected. There was a great deal that told about Grace's everyday life as a servant and the lead up to the murders themselves comprised two-thirds of the book. Considering the novel dealt with topics of murder, possession, and infidelity, as a whole it felt rather subdued. I'm not saying this was a bad thing per se, just very unexpected.
There was a part of me that wanted the events to feel more heated, more immediate. Because there was so much sensationalism surrounding the actual murder, I thought Atwood might employ that energy and feeling into the novel itself. Instead, as I mentioned above, there was a lot of focus on the day-to-day of Grace's chores and her servant life. While I did enjoy those bits, I felt like I was waiting for something more. When I finally did get into it, I was intrigued, but also somewhat let down. I wish there would have been more excitement leading up to the climax, or at least more of a focus on Grace's possession. Without it, I felt that the book could have been more condensed. However, with that said, the quiet craziness is the theme that Atwood does well. I've come to expect a lack of definition in her denouements and a plethora of complications in her straightforwardness.
All in all, this isn't my favorite Atwood (Cat's Eye still holds that spot) but I did enjoy the reading experience, nonetheless. Atwood did a fantastic job capturing the feeling of the period, and I'd like to see her write more historically based fiction. I'm also so happy I participated in the read-along, as this book was a fantastic choice for discussion among other bloggers.
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 1996