Alias Grace is based on the story of Grace Marks, a maid convicted of murdering her employer and possibly her employer’s housekeeper in 1843. Her trial and conviction were highly controversial. The book is extremely well-written and focuses on the duplicity Victorian women needed to survive in a time when sexuality (or perceived sexuality) could be so detrimental as to cause women to be abandoned by society.
I hated this book. HATED.
I’ve never met a Margaret Atwood novel I didn’t like, so I was upset with myself for disliking it so acutely. I will try to re-read it in a few years because there are several reasons that may have contributed to my dislike.
1. I’m coming off of a MaddAddam trilogy high. I adored Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy and I just finished it earlier this year. I adored every blasted word of those books and I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough. Alias Grace is so different and it may have been too different for so soon after reading the phenomenal MaddAddam trilogy.
2. I built it up in my head. EVERYONE has told me I would ADORE Alias Grace. I love unreliable narrators and the Victorian time period is my favorite. In fact, I was saving this book for a time when I felt blah about reading because I was so sure I adored it. Maybe if I hadn’t had such high expectations I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.
Yes, this warrants a re-read at some time in the future simply to make sure it wasn’t a case of “right book, wrong time.”
I have two main issues with the book and when I
say type this it will sound snarky, but I totally don’t mean it snarky: the plot and the characters sucked. The writing was freaking gorgeous, but I read to be immersed in another world and it just didn’t happen.
Plot: there wasn’t really one. We know from the blurb or the beginning that Grace Marks is in jail and accused of a murder that she may or may not have participated in. Is she a tarty maid with a penchant to kill? Is she insane? Is she simple minded and didn’t know what was going on? Was she really just trying to not be killed herself? Who knows? All I know is that the same story was repeated over and over and over again with little change. I kept waiting for a Sarah Waters-like plot twist and it didn’t happen. And there is this douchey doctor exploring her case and questioning her, but he is a bag of dicks and half-crazy himself so I didn’t put much stock in him. Frankly, he annoyed me so much I forgot his name.
Characters: I hated them all. I didn’t feel sorry for anyone. If I had my way they would have all gotten the axe (pun intended). Everyone is despicable and there isn’t a genuine soul in sight.
This feels completely pretentious to claim, but I feel the novel would have been wonderful if written from different perspectives. There are two other interesting characters: Mary (Grace’s deceased friend from a previous place of employment) and Nancy (the housekeeper who Grace may or may not have murdered). Since the thematic crux of the novel is that love and desire is dangerous to the Victorian women and all three women had dealt with loss and betrayal why not have each woman have a section of the novel? In fact the end of the novel has Grace sewing a quilt with parts representing herself, Mary, and Nancy. It would have added some depth to Grace by having the perspective of someone other than the bag of dicks doctor and it would have the potential to express elements leading up to the murder in an interesting way.
But seriously, who the heck am I to question Atwood?
Let me know your thoughts on Alias Grace; am I an idiot or naw?