Friday, 18 April 2008

Alias Grace

Title: Alias Grace

Author: Margaret Atwood

Number of pages: 534

Started: 6 April 2008

Finished: 18 April 2008

Opening words:

Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, their buds testing the air like snails' eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.

In the one instant before they come apart they are like the peonies in the front garden at Mr. Kinnear's, that first day, only those were white. Nancy was cutting them. She wore a pale dress with pink rosebuds and a triple-flounced skirt, and a straw bonnet that hid her face. She carried a flat basket, to put the flowers in; she bent from the hips like a lady, holding her waist straight. When she heard us and turned to look, she put her hand up to her throat as if startled.

I tuck my head down while I walk, keeping step with the rest, eyes lowered, silently two by two around the yard, inside the square made by the high stone walls. My hands are clasped in front of me; they're chapped, the knuckles reddened. I can't remember a time when they were not like that. The toes of my shoes go in and out under the hem of my skirt, blue and white, blue and white, crunching on the pathway. These shoes fit me better than any I've ever had before.

Plot summary:

In 1843, a 16-year-old Canadian housemaid named Grace Marks was tried for the murder of her employer and his mistress. The sensationalistic trial made headlines throughout the world, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Yet opinion remained fiercely divided about Marks- -was she a spurned woman who had taken out her rage on two innocent victims, or was she an unwilling victim herself, caught up in a crime she was too young to understand? Such doubts persuaded the judges to commute her sentence to life imprisonment, and Marks spent the next 30 years in an assortment of jails and asylums, where she was often exhibited as a star attraction. In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood reconstructs Marks's story in fictional form. Her portraits of 19th-century prison and asylum life are chilling in their detail. The author also introduces Dr Simon Jordan, who listens to the prisoner's tale with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. In his effort to uncover the truth, Jordan uses the tools of the then rudimentary science of psychology. But the last word belongs to the book's narrator--Grace herself.

Synopsis taken from Amazon

What I thought:

I quite liked this book and when I was reading it I found it engaging, but as soon as I put it down, I found no great urge to pick it up and continue with it. It was well written book, but I think perhaps overly long – although I can’t really come up with anything specific that could have been cut. I have read other Margaret Atwood books and found them to be better than this one. Other people have described it as having a good psychological edge to it and making them think “did she or didn’t she?” but I can’t say that it had that effect on me particularly. I just felt a bit non-plussed by it really.

I have another Margaret Atwood book that I want to read so it will be interesting to see what I make of that one. This book did remind me of another book I read a few years ago called The Alienist and that was a good book and well worth a read.

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