Sheila's Reviews > Alias Grace

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Jul 09, 2010

really liked it
Read from July 09 to 16, 2010

Everyone wants "the truth" from Atwood's Grace. Did she or didn't she participate in the infamous murders of her employer and his housekeeper/lover?

But as Grace herself comments, no one really wants to hear a truth that supercedes the boundaries of popular credibility.

Instead, "truth" is concocted around her story by those seeking to villify her and those trying to protect her. She was a loose whore in love with Mr. Kinnear, the man who employed her. She was a greedy temptress willing to kill for a pair of coveted gold earrings owned by housekeeper Nancy. She was too young. She was insane.

Atwood takes us through this extraordinary (fictionalized) character's childhood to assist us in understanding the enigma that is Grace, a simple Irish girl thrust into one horrific circumstance after another during the most formative years of her life; and, as an accused murderess, manages to drown so many in the depths of her almost childlike simplicity combined with sharp observational powers and intelligence.

Some general thoughts:

a. Grace's ideas of sex are extremely prudish, in direct opposition with almost every other character in the book, regardless of their appearance in Victorian society. Grace, in her own voice, has observed sex as a fearful thing whose consequence is always woman's downfall.

And yet Atwood never comments on Grace's marital relations when she finally marries at the end of the book (well past the flush of youth). Only a comment on what really seems to (ahem) turn her husband on - her lurid descriptions of life in prison before her release, bringing us to -

b. what appears to be a loose commentary on the general psychology of the males in Alias Grace. Whether gentlemen or the most degenerate of jailers, each man she encounters (with one apparent exception) wishes to use Grace for their own ends, whether monetary (her father), sexual or mental/emotional. At least sex is straightforward. But it's those seeking entrance into her mind, into her virgin confidence, (while trying to convince themselves it's for her own good) that are the most wily, the most sinister and the most complicated. They need her answers; they need her cowering, simpering gratitude at the efforts they expend on her behalf; they need her forgiveness for the sins they pride themselves on commiting against her. Only Jeremiah the peddler/magician-scientist/con man appears to have something close to true concern for her behalf.

Even her relationship with her husband seems to be tainted with that something she has so often observed with the other men in her life.

c. The "truth" in the story is discovered in a scene which embraces all the spiritualst/scientific/hypnotheater mumbo-jumbo charactizing the fads of the time in which the story unfolds. Atwood makes a fascinating statement here on the spectrum of illusion and physical, of the connection between the scientific and the spiritual.
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