Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on May 20, 2010

Alias Grace by Margaret AtwoodThere are a few things I love about Margaret Atwood:

1. The fact that, without her, there would be no The Blind Assassin, or Oryx and Crake, or A Handmaid’s Tale, and that very terrible idea is enough to ensure my long-lasting devotion.

2. How she isn’t confined to one voice, or one time period or even reality. She can write for women and for men, in the future or in the past, with old characters and young ones, historical fictions or future predictions.

3. Her effortless characters who jump up from the page and drive through your skull and into your brain and roost there like chickens waiting out a long winter.

4. Her books are usually long enough that when I get them in hardback, I can get a small arm workout as I read.

But on to the good stuff.

Alias Grace is Really Really Good

I may be a little biased here because I love Margaret Atwood, even though I, admittedly, kind of struggled to make it through Cat’s Eye. But overall I love her and everything her curly head thinks up. Alias Grace is no different.

The historical fiction focuses on Canada’s most illustrious murderess, Grace Marks, who at the age of 16 may or may not have killed her employer and his mistress. Her “accomplice” was hanged, and little Gracie was sent to prison for life. No one knows if she actually was a killer, least of all the reader, and perhaps even more least of all Simon Jordan, the doctor who takes it upon himself to determine if she suffers from lunacy or is just evil.

Simon is attempting to break into the fledgling profession of clinical psychiatry, which in the mid-1800s consisted of upper-middle class white men traveling to various countries to investigate the “humors” of crazy people. If Simon puts enough root vegetables in front of Grace, will she finally recover the repressed memories of the murders which took place in the cellar?

He sure hopes so.

Even more so, Simon hopes that he can finally get a little action (if you know what I mean) because he has been so sexually repressed every lady who catches his eye sends him into ecstatic, hyper-sexual dreams. Is it possible to, rather than sleep walk, sleep sex? Yes.

By the end of the novel you just want the poor sap to get lucky with old Grace, uncover her innocence, and whisk her away to America where they can live happily ever after.

But that wouldn’t be very Atwood, would it?


  • The fluid exchange of perspective between Grace and Dr Jordan.
  • Breaks of espistolary brilliance, with valuable back story and a hint of what happens to little Grace.
  • No punctuation. Well, there is some punctuation. But Atwood avoids quotation marks so what is being thought and what is being said is awfully ambiguous. And delicious.
  • Small font and lots of pages.

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