0391 | Alias Grace | Margaret Atwood

0391 | Alias Grace | Margaret Atwood

Context: Was reading this as we pulled into the island of Malaita on a ferry in the Solomon Islands.

REVIEW

Another Atwood down. She’s quickly becoming an okay author. But on the whole, I’m not wowed by her writing. Handmaid’s Tale was, of course, excellent. This is good, but not as good as that is.

Grace Marks was a real person. She was really convicted for murder back in 19th century Canada and there has always been controversy about her trial and imprisonment. Having read a bit of Atwood, I can easily see what appealed to her about Grace’s story. The appeal of a woman falsely imprisoned by a male-dominated legislature must have been almost impossible to resist.

But although there are touches of the feminist angle, which is to be expected, I was relieved that there wasn’t as much of this as there could have been. In fact, throughout, Atwood brings her considerable skills to bear in constructing a character who you feel undecided about from beginning to end. This is the best thing about the novel. The whole point, I guess, is that we are all so quick to judge andng no use facts to our own benefit when doing so.

When Dr Simon Jordan is finally confronted with as much of her story as she can remember, he too fails to arrive at the clarity he is sure must be there if he probes deep enough. It’s what he does with this that left the ending hanging for me. I left the novel a bit frustrated by the lack of closure. That’s kind of unusual for me. In retrospect this is, again, a feature of Atwood’s skill in storytelling. It’s quite possible you are meant to be left hanging in much the same way that history has been regarding Grace.

So, this is an interesting novel that benefits from some excellent character development (Grace and Dr Jordan) and some less captivating (Nancy Montgomery, Dr Jordan’s landlady whose name escapes me now) but is not for those who like all their loose ends neatly tied up when they reach the back cover.

OPENING LINE

Out of the gravel there are peonies growing.

99TH PAGE QUOTE

Mrs Humphrey begins to cry again, gently, effortlessly, as if the sobs are a kind of birdsong.

“You must have some good woman friend you can go to. Or who can come to you.” Simon is anxious to transfer Mrs Humphrey from his own shoulders to those of someone else. Women help each other; caring for the afflicted is their sphere. They make beef tea and jellies. They knit comforting shawls. They pat and soothe.

“I have no friends in this place. We have only recently come to this city, having suffered – having undergone some financial difficulties in our previous abode. My husband discouraged visits. He did not want me going out.”

A useful thought comes to Simon. “You must eat something. You will feel stronger.”

CLOSING LINE

And so we will all be together.

RATING

0391 | Alias Grace | Atwood | 76% | Very Good

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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