Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood

When I saw this in the Oxfam bookshop at only £2.49, I simply had to grab it before someone else did! I was told by a fellow volunteer that Alias Grace was ‘the most accessible Atwood book’. Not that I was worried – I’ve never had a problem getting stuck into one of her books before, in fact it’s always been the opposite. So, I was quite confused with how long it took me to start enjoying this book. Was it me? Alias Grace has all the ingredients for an unputdownable, thrilling read – a real life, infamous Canadian murder, a woman incarcerated for years, while her supposed paramour is hanged – so why was I finding it so hard to get into?

Well, the beginning is a bit slow, especially for someone who has never heard of the alleged murderess Grace Marks. I never cope well with quotes, poems and long letters in the middle of a story and from the very beginning this book is peppered with often irrelevant extracts. I assume this was to give a sense of the past and to set the scene, but all it did for me was distract from the main story.

The book didn’t start to interest me until the entrance of Dr. Jordan, who studies Grace and tries to determine her mental state. The chapters with Grace and Dr. Jordan together, looking back at Grace’s upbringing, were well written and genuinely interesting. The other characters, such as Mary Whitney, James McDermot, Mr. Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery added splashes of colour to the story. Mary Whitney is particularly enjoyable to read about. Her character is feisty, funny and full of life – she is an extremely important part of the book, but I wish she could have been in it more.

After finishing the book, I have read up a little on Grace Marks, and not much is actually known of her life, before or after the murder. Margaret Atwood has created a complex and fascinating character out of the information provided, fleshing out Grace’s story to turn her into a human being, instead of just some vague facts. Grace’s character also manages to captivate Dr. Jordan, which turns into a storyline that I wasn’t really that keen on – I won’t say any more as I don’t want to give anything away.

I suppose my real problem with this book, apart from the long letters, was the fact that I could not sympathise with the main character. Although much of the book comes from her point of view and is in her words, Grace constantly eludes both the reader and Dr. Jordan. We never really know what she is thinking or feeling. Margaret Atwood is an incredible writer, and I am in no doubt that her intention was to fill the reader with uncertainty, but I like to have at least one character that I can care about or at least feel some sort of strong emotion towards.

I’m not a huge fan of Alias Grace, but I have heard so many good things about this book, so maybe it’s just me. I still think of Margaret Atwood as one of my favourite authors and can’t wait to read all of her books – there’s bound to be some I’m not keen on!

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18 thoughts on “Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood

  1. Hi! I’ve just read Alias Grace and I really enjoyed it. This is my first Atwood and I loved her prose, style & subject matter in this particular book. Like you said I wasn’t too happy with the Dr. Jordan story line but I could understand how he might go down that particular road given that he’s quite a weak character to begin with. I also didn’t have a problem with the quotes and letters – I enjoy that kind of thing. To each his own I guess 🙂 I plan to read The Blind Assasin after a few weeks. I hope it doesn’t disappoint. Glad I found your blog!


  2. I’ve read quite a few of Margaret Atwoods novels but really loved this one. Its even best read a few times as each time I think you discover parts of the book and of Grace that you might not have the first time. The Handmaid’s Tale is my personal favourite so I would recommend that one first for those new to Atwood – a bit like 1984 in a way. Very interesting!

    Enjoyed all the other thoughts on these books. I love finding out what other people think and share on these posts


    • I can see why reading it again might help you to discover something new about Grace. Maybe I should try it again in a few years…

      I also loved The Handmaid’s Tale. It was the first Atwood that I ever read and was a great introduction!

      Thanks for your comment, I always like hearing what other people think of these books!


  3. The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin were my first Atwood reads and I loved both. I now have a shelf full of Atwood including Alias Grace which I look forward to reading! She is fab but as you say, there is like to be a book or two that we may not enjoy as much!


    • Those were my first two Atwood reads too! They are such brilliant books to start with. Don’t be put off by what I say about Alias Grace – maybe I was just having a bad week! Everyone else seems to love it anyway.


  4. I read this one a while ago and really really enjoyed it – I actually can only remember the relationship with Dr Jordan/flashbacks to her childhood etc – but I did really enjoy it as my first Atwood experience. It is so important to sympathise with your main character though…I felt quite indifferent about ‘The Blind Assasin’ – I can’t actually remember what it was about !


    • It’s strange – not everyone likes The Blind Assassin but I loved it! I really wish that I had enjoyed Alias Grace more, but you can’t love them all I suppose! I won’t be giving up on Atwood though of course.


  5. I thought I’d read this, but don’t remember anything about it! I remember reading The Handmaid’s Tale, and was not sure about that either! Thanks for posting!


    • The Handmaid’s Tale was the first book I read by Atwood and it was a brilliant start. This is the first of her books that I haven’t been so keen on. Thanks for the comment!


  6. This is the only Atwood novel I have read and I really liked it. I have The Handmaid’s Tale high up on my TBR now, though, so hopefully will have that read within the next month or so.


  7. I read this years ago, and I remember that I really liked it. I’ll be re-reading it as part of a project to re-read all of Atwood’s fiction, though, and I’ll have to let you know what I think when the time comes.


    • Haha, that does happen sometimes doesn’t it? I don’t see it as a bad thing though – it means you can re-read it all over again as if for the first time, getting exactly the same enjoyment out of it! 🙂


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