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Alias Grace
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Margaret Atwood Collection > Alias Grace - SPOILERS

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Melanti | 2384 comments This thread is for a full discussion of our January 2018 New School Group Read selection, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.


Discuss any spoilers in this thread


message 2: by Robyn-Lee (new) - added it

Robyn-Lee Samuels (thewritespace) | 6 comments Yeay. I recently watched the miniseries can't wait to get into the. book


Chrissy | 50 comments I’m going to wait till after reading to watch - I wonder which way is best in this case!?


Janice (JG) | 104 comments Chrissy wrote: "I’m going to wait till after reading to watch - I wonder which way is best in this case!?"

I'm not sure it makes any difference, the miniseries script is so close to the book. Of course, the book has more detail, and the timeline is not compressed, which they had to do for the miniseries. But the whole tone of the narrative is reproduced flawlessly in the miniseries.


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Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3215 comments I finished this at the end of December. I've been waiting for some people to comment who have read it but I can't wait any longer.

I really liked the writing in this and liked how Atwood drew attention to how women were taken advantage of in this era.
However, I thought it was too sympathetic towards Grace. Even though I felt bad for Grace, because of things that had happened to her, I never believed her story about the murders or that she had the split personality disorder. I guess since she was eventually pardoned, I can't fault Atwood for being sympathetic towards her, but it did affect my enjoyment of the book.

I'll likely be in the extreme minority on this one. I may be even the only one who feels this way, but I can't help it.


Janice (JG) | 104 comments Sue wrote: "I finished this at the end of December. I've been waiting for some people to comment who have read it but I can't wait any longer.

I really liked the writing in this and liked how Atwood drew atte..."


I'm curious why you have decided that she was guilty of the murders (is that what you are saying?), what about her story and behavior tipped you towards that conclusion?


Laurie | 1656 comments Sue wrote: "I finished this at the end of December. I've been waiting for some people to comment who have read it but I can't wait any longer.

I really liked the writing in this and liked how Atwood drew atte..."


I also believe that Grace was guilty of the murders. I didn't find her story of blacking out to be credible, and I thought she was generally manipulative. The possibility of her being inhabited by her dead friend who controlled her in some way seemed silly in this rather serious portrayal. While I didn't think she was McDermott's girlfriend, I thought she convinced him to help her murder their employer and Nancy. She may have been young, but she didn't seem innocent and naive to me. I'm not sure that I think that Atwood was overly sympathetic since she didn't go out of her way to convince the reader of Grace's innocence. It was always very ambiguous to me.

Believing Grace to be guilty did not lessen my enjoyment of the book. However I found the story of Dr. Jordan to be interesting but kind of distracting. I wasn't sure what the purpose of the affair with his landlady played in the overall book. I thought much of his story could have been left out.


message 8: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3215 comments Janice(JG) wrote: "Sue wrote: "I finished this at the end of December. I've been waiting for some people to comment who have read it but I can't wait any longer.

I really liked the writing in this and liked how Atwo..."


I pretty much feel the same as Laurie, except I do believe that McDermott could have been her girlfriend, in addition.

Whether or not he was her girlfriend, I don't believe he would force her to help and then refuse to admit it when he would hang either way. She was a very attractive person and it seemed many men were taken with her, it seems likely that he probably was too and that she used that to manipulate him.

Her scenario just doesn't make sense. He would have murdered her after she helped him if they weren't in it together. Plus, he didn't really need her. He could have murdered both her and Kinnear's mistress before he got home and then murdered him.

Grace certainly had more motive than McDermott, being either unwillingly raped by Kinnear, or having a consensual relationship and being jealous of he and Montgomery's relationship.

I did feel bad for Grace and wanted her to get treatment. I do believe she had mental health issues (as most all murders do), but didn't believe the split personality for a second. It seemed so contrived. Other cases of that seem to come with more horrific twisted abuse. The things that happened to her were horrible, but not all that uncommon. If they caused this disorder, it wouldn't be as rare as it is even today.

Even if she did have it, I don't think it's a reason to pardon someone. Everyone who murders has some form of mental illness and a good percentage of them had abuse in their lives. I wish for history and now, that we had better prison systems that gave prisoners more comforts, dignity, & treatment. However, murderers need to be locked up somewhere to protect future victims. Sociopaths are master manipulators, and their "cure" can't be relied upon. Some serial killers have been "model" prisoners.


message 9: by Sue (last edited Jan 11, 2018 06:34AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3215 comments Laurie wrote: "Sue wrote: "I finished this at the end of December. I've been waiting for some people to comment who have read it but I can't wait any longer.

I really liked the writing in this and liked how Atwo..."


I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thought she was guilty. It's nice that it didn't affect your enjoyment of the book. I enjoyed most of it since the split personality didn't come until the end. Had it not been for that, I probably would have given it 4 stars. As it was, I gave it 3. I did enjoy the writing.


Chrissy | 50 comments I don't have an opinion on whether she was guilty of the murders or not - I like that the book kept that ambiguous. I do think she showed really poor judgement (based on her own words) of how she responded to McDermott's plans, though - and was quite callous about the whole thing.

On the whole, I found the book so slow moving that I was bored much of the time. I also didn't get the point of the Doctor's story especially after finding out that he was fictional. I like that it gave Grace someone to confide in and write to, but why the backstory, in that case?


Laurie | 1656 comments Chrissy wrote: "I don't have an opinion on whether she was guilty of the murders or not - I like that the book kept that ambiguous. I do think she showed really poor judgement (based on her own words) of how she r..."

I agree about the doctor's backstory being pretty pointless. As I mentioned before, his story was distracting. It made the book longer for no discernable reason.


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Robyn-Lee Samuels (thewritespace) | 6 comments From the series I wasn't sure if she was lying or if she had multiple personalities. So I'm reading to find out which it is I suppose.


message 13: by Clio (last edited Jan 12, 2018 09:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Clio | 34 comments McDermott obviously wasn't much more reliable than Grace when you're trying to sort out exactly who did what and with what intentions. Did McDermott do everything himself and Grace ran away with him to avoid both being pinned for the murders and getting killed by McDermott?

Did Grace actually have multiple personalities or did Jeremiah coach her right before mesmerizing her? (They were alone together right before their mesmerization performance and no one else tried to pull her arm down when it "raised on its own" under only the power of Jeremiah's suggestion.) Whether she was innocent or guilty, admitting guilt with another personality would have only helped her case in being freed.

I like all of the questions this book raised and also how it viscerally reminds you how dangerous pregnancy and childbirth used to be. It gives you an interesting perspective as a woman to read something where women just get married and keep having kids until they die in childbirth, or get pregnant out of wedlock and have a terrifying, dangerous illegal abortion to avoid even worse consequences in their future.


Loretta | 2668 comments I read this at the end of last year, 2017. I wasn't very impressed. Had I known it was based on actual events I probably wouldn't have read it because I am not a fan of those types of books. I doubt I'll be reading anything else by Atwood. I'm not particularly enamored with her writing style.


message 15: by Pink (new) - rated it 2 stars

Pink | 6554 comments Well, I've read a quarter of the book, or listened to it, but I'm thoroughly bored. I'm glad that I've read this thread now as it's made me decide not to continue. I liked some of the narrative with Grace, but was also disinterested in Dr Simon's story. I didn't really care whether Grace was guilty or not either, but wrapping things up by having her possessed by her friend Mary/having a split personality sounds like a lazy plot device to me. Atwood also seems to push feminist topics on you, rather than let the story do the telling, which is kind of annoying.

The premise of the story is very similar to Burial Rites, but I much preferred the writing by Hannah Kent. Though I might still give the TV series a try one day.

I hope everyone still reading is having better luck than me.


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Robyn-Lee Samuels (thewritespace) | 6 comments There are glimpses of the personalities through the book. And if someone has an underlying psychosis it can be triggered by anything the individual feels is traumatic. in this case it happened to be the death of a friend that Grace was frankly obsessed with. The point is that her psychosis was we'll hidden for most of the book so the reader doesn't see it because they're not looking for it. It's like Sherlock Holmes says "I'm not a psychopath, I'm a functional sociopath"


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Liza Tishchenko (thames_nocturne) | 25 comments My more rational faculties of mind drive me to believe that psychosis is the more likely explanation, indeed, though I think Grace is not to be underestimated. She is an exceptional storyteller - as evidenced by the subtle but relentless attention she draws to the value of perceptions, facades, and theatrical agencies - and it strikes me that these elements of her experience must necessarily play some part in her telling of her story. The notion of Grace as an artist - authoring her story - is the framework upon which any further questions of what is true and what that truth means must be raised. At one extreme, she may indeed suffer from some variant of multiple personality disorder; at another, she may be guilty and covering up by faking; at yet another, she may simply be creating an art piece of her own identity for the consumption of others. Much of the novel’s power, I feel, is derived from Atwood’s brilliant weaving together of all these potentialities at once.


message 18: by Liza (last edited Jan 17, 2018 11:16AM) (new)

Liza Tishchenko (thames_nocturne) | 25 comments Laurie wrote: "Chrissy wrote: "I don't have an opinion on whether she was guilty of the murders or not - I like that the book kept that ambiguous. I do think she showed really poor judgement (based on her own wor..."

I was surprised so many people felt this way, though I guess I can see how it may have been distracting. I personally thought the doctor’s story got more interesting once Mrs. Humphrey was involved, as his experience with that woman (as well as his own psychological treatment of that experience) played very nicely against his experience with Grace, raising some interesting questions regarding not only male-female relations but also female performativity.

I do think at some points it got just a tad tedious, as I feel Atwood guilty of not always trusting the reader to grasp the ramifications and subtleties of the doctor’s experiences. She thus tends toward over-explaining.


Janice (JG) | 104 comments Liza wrote: "I was surprised so many people felt this way, though I guess I can see how it may have been distracting. I personally thought the doctor’s story got more interesting once Mrs. Humphrey was involved, as his experience with that woman (as well as his own psychological treatment of that experience) played very nicely against his experience with Grace, raising some interesting questions regarding not only male-female relations but also female performativity. ..."

I agree with you. I saw the doctor as another male who saw Grace (and Grace's guilt or innocence) through his own lens of perception... and what a lens it was. He had daydreams of rape and violence about the women he was in contact with. Supposedly he witnessed these thoughts, but he did nothing to examine them or quell them... he would just wonder at their presence. His affair with his landlady was just more fantasy fulfillment, and he blamed his behavior on the landlady for Pete's sake. I can't help but think his role as a physician and psychotherapist was Atwater's acerbic commentary on the profession.

I'm really glad Grace was pardoned, and I find that the word "pardon" is very fitting here. From her childhood with her abusive clod of a father to each of her experiences with the men in her strictly regulated life of subservience and service where she is constantly treated like an object (right up to and including her marriage to Jamie) and where the women she's known (including her mother) are abused and mistreated by men in power and authority... from a life littered with these experiences, whether Grace murdered her master and his mistress or not is not relevant.

If she did, whether she was crazy or crazy as a fox, who could really blame her? Frankly, if you look at our history as women and what kinds of oppression and abusive behavior we have not only taken on the chin, but adapted to over and over again, teaching our daughters to do the same (and teaching our sons that they can perpetuate this abuse)... it's a wonder we aren't all raving maniacs gone berserk and laying waste around us.

I pardon Grace too.


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Robyn-Lee Samuels (thewritespace) | 6 comments I personally lean toward her just being a good story-teller/actress.


Carlo | 206 comments I just assumed that the "split personality" under hypnosis was just a trick concocted between Grace and Jeremiah in order to convince the audience to petition for her release. Recall Jeremiah nodded and winked at her some chapters earlier when the subject was first broached. The two of them also spent time alone together discussing something before the hypnosis started.

I don't think this necessarily means she was guilty but just looking to escape prison.


message 22: by Suki (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 76 comments I enjoyed the book, for the most part. Like some of the other comments above, I also felt ambiguous and undecided about whether or not Grace was guilty, but I was glad that she was finally pardoned. It was hard reading about her earlier life, especially when she lost her mother. When she went into service, I had to keep reminding myself how very young she was. Her early life was brutal, and it seemed that anyone who showed any interest in her did so with strings attached. I was interested in the Doctor Jordan character in the beginning, but he turned out to be quite a disappointment. After he ran away, it seemed that his only purpose was to act as an ear for Grace's narrative, and to be just one more person who let her down. All the different personas of Jeremiah the peddlar were also very confusing.


Melanti | 2384 comments I also thought Grace was guilty. The whole multiple personality angle seemed laughably implausible. She had a decade of sitting around and thinking, and that was the best she could come up with?! It probably would have been a bit more believable at the time, but to me? No.


Liza wrote: "I do think at some points it got just a tad tedious, as I feel Atwood guilty of not always trusting the reader to grasp the ramifications and subtleties of the doctor’s experiences. She thus tends toward over-explaining. ..."

I completely agree with this. I think if Atwood had been a bit more subtle with her feminist rhetoric and not have spelled it out for the readers so many times, and had a decent male character in it, I would have liked it a lot better.


message 24: by Pink (new) - rated it 2 stars

Pink | 6554 comments I completely agree about wanting Atwood to be more subtle with her feminist rhetoric. Normally I'm all for loud and shouty femisim but found this too blatant and distracting from the story.


Melanti | 2384 comments Pink wrote: "I completely agree about wanting Atwood to be more subtle with her feminist rhetoric. Normally I'm all for loud and shouty femisim but found this too blatant and distracting from the story."

And you quit before the worst of it! The closer it gets to the end the more blatant it becomes.


Shirley (stampartiste) | 791 comments This was indeed a very slow read, as Atwood developed the story primarily through Grace's stream-of-consciousness inner dialogues and conversations. Part of me enjoyed the book, but the other part really didn't care whether Grace was guilty or not. I never got invested in her. What struck me was that almost all of the characters in this book were deeply flawed. It just made me wonder what Atwood's world view is.

I definitely don't understand the purpose of the side story of Dr. Jordan 's affair with his landlady. For whatever reason, Atwood turned a nice guy into a reprobate who hid behind his mother's apron when trouble came. I was not a fan of this part of the story.


Melanti | 2384 comments stampartiste wrote: "For whatever reason, Atwood turned a nice guy into a reprobate who hid behind his mother's apron when trouble came. ..."

I thought the purpose of that part of the story was so that you could have one woman slut shame another woman in order to point out the inherent hypocrisy that only women are blamed for having sex out of wedlock?

Regardless, Dr. Jordan isn't likely to respond in any meaningful way to the land lady, since he wouldn't be willing to admit to the affair in writing, since that would reflect badly on him.


Janice (JG) | 104 comments Carlo wrote: "I just assumed that the "split personality" under hypnosis was just a trick concocted between Grace and Jeremiah in order to convince the audience to petition for her release. Recall Jeremiah nodde..."

Yes, that was my take on that too. If I remember correctly, Jeremiah requested a private consult with Grace right before the hypnotism session, and I figured he had a plan of some kind. Eventually, the results of the day seemed to have worked towards her pardon.


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