Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, TBR challenge book 1

alias grace
I finished Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood on April 14th. I’ve finally settled down enough to write a review.

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?



  1. I have it but I haven’t even attempted to read it. That said, and very unhelpful, I’m sorry this one didn’t pan out for you. I just finished a book I was certain I should’ve liked and “meh.” I think we can overhype ourselves sometimes.

  2. Aah! I’m so sorry you hated this book! I loved it, but read it so long ago that I don’t feel like I can really elaborate on that. However, I think your idea for the book would also be good! I would read them both!

  3. OMG, this is my least favorite Atwood (well, maybe tied with The Blind Assassin) and I feel like a complete tool for not loving it. Dystopian Atwood has always been my favorite, but usually I like her other stuff (Cat’s Eye? The Robber Bride? The Penelopiad? Good times.) It fell completely flat for me, and you’re the first person I’ve seen who openly disliked it as well. I think we’re basically sisters now.

  4. I seriously think this is one of my favorite Atwood books. It is just so Canadian! Now, that being said, I read it when it came out 15-20 years ago, so maybe my memory is blurred with time a little bit. But i do remember that the writing was breath taking. But the good thing about Atwood, is that her books are so varied that you can like one without liking the others. Go MaddAddam!

  5. I haven’t read the book, but I feel pretty damn confident in saying you’re not an idiot! 🙂 I adored this post. While I really wish you’d enjoyed the book, it’s always reassuring to see that the “hating a book everyone else loves” thing happens to others. When it happens to me, I always worry that somehow the book just went over my head. Which of course is stupid–it’s just that every book is not for every person. Here’s hoping your next Atwood brings you as much reading pleasure as MaddAddam!

  6. Hallelujah! I also hated Alias Grace! Thought I was crazy because, I too, loved everything I’d read by Margaret Atwood until this disaster.
    If you haven’t already, try The Handmaiden’s Tale. Great writing, good plot. At least in my opinion.

  7. I read it a long time ago (when it first came out), so I’m not much help here, but I remember loving it. On the other hand, I’ve never been a big fan of her dystopian novels. To each her own, I guess. (Now I have the urge to re-read it!)

  8. I’m with you on this one. I read it years ago. Didn’t like it and re-read it in 2013 I think and stll didn’t like it. And like you I loved, loved, loved the MaddAddam trilogy and in general love everything MA writes.

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