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!