Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Alias Grace

Oh, Margaret Atwood.  It's just not fair.  How good of an author you are, I mean.  This is the fourth book of yours I have read now, and you seem to be seriously gunning for the top of my personal 'best of the best' list.  

Actually, this was one of two books on my 2014 Challenge List that I had to hold over to this year, and it is is something of a departure for Atwood - a book based on real events, with a fictionalized account filling in the gaps but not giving us clear answers.

The Grace of the title is Grace Marks, a girl not yet turned 16 when she became involved, to some degree, in the 1843 murder of her employer and his mistress.  All within about 2-3 weeks of starting work there as a maid.  She and a male hired hand named James McDermott were convicted of the crime, and both were sentenced to death.  McDermott was hung, while Grace's death penalty was commuted and she was eventually pardoned.

None of these things are spoilers, they're all facts of the case and a matter of historical record.  What Atwood does so wonderfully is give life to Grace and her peers, and make a case for their motivations.  In Alias Grace, Grace has witnessed the death of her mother, the disintegration of her wastrel father, and the loss of all her family, either to death or distance.  Despite this, Grace's voice is wonderfully practical, and capable, and at 15 she can run a household far better than I can.  And yet she, at the very least, fails to so much as try to prevent the murders, and may have even fully participated.

Atwood creates a few other characters to frame the story, and allow Grace to tell hers.  In doing this, we see that the societal attitudes of the era were truly terrible toward women, but that men were harmed, too, although usually in more subtle ways.  Which, I think, is the point of the book, at the bottom of it all.  Crazy, out-of-whack gender crap is bad for everybody.  

In any case, it's amazing when you can read a book like this, come away with very few solid answers about the level and nature of Grace's involvement, and still think its one of the best books you've ever read.  But that's what happened!  There are eerie and beautiful pieces of imagery, particularly dream sequences (which I usually find awkward and a slight turn off).  Images of sheets, and quilts, and beds and women.  Souls stuck in rooms, unable to ascend.  Wonderful descriptions of the Canadian countryside.  Haunting, just haunting.

Final call:
I could quibble with a few things, here and there, but I'd feel like I was complaining that no one plucked the seeds from a big delicious red strawberry.  Highly recommended.

1 comment :

  1. Now I want to read this book. I have some catching up to do on Atwood, as I haven't read anything by her for a decade or two, so thanks for the recommendation!