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Alias Grace [Paperback]

Margaret Atwood
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 14 2000
In Alias Grace, bestselling author Margaret Atwood has written her most captivating, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying work since The Handmaid's Tale. She takes us back in time and into the life of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century.

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?

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Product Description

From Amazon

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Intrigued by contemporary reports of a sensational murder trial in 1843 Canada, Atwood has drawn a compelling portrait of what might have been. Her protagonist, the real life Grace Marks, is an enigma. Convicted at age 16 of the murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper and lover, Nancy Montgomery, Grace escaped the gallows when her sentence was commuted to life in prison, but she also spent some years in an insane asylum after an emotional breakdown. Because she gave three different accounts of the killings, and because she was accused of being the sole perpetrator by the man who was hanged for the crime, Grace's life and mind are fertile territory for Atwood. Adapting her style to the period she describes, she has written a typical Victorian novel, leisurely in exposition, copiously detailed and crowded with subtly drawn characters who speak the embroidered, pietistic language of the time. She has created a probing psychological portrait of a working-class woman victimized by society because of her poverty, and victimized again by the judicial and prison systems. The narrative gains texture and tension from the dynamic between Grace and an interlocutor, earnest young bachelor Dr. Simon Jordan, who is investigating the causes of lunacy with plans to establish his own, more enlightened institution. Jordan is hoping to awaken Grace's suppressed memories of the day of the murder, but Grace, though uneducated, is far wilier than Jordan, whom she tells only what she wishes to confess. He, on the other hand, is handicapped by his compassion, which makes him the victim of the wiles of other women, too?his passionate, desperate landlady, and the virginal but predatory daughter of the prison governor. These encounters give Atwood the chance to describe the war between the sexes with her usual wit. Although the narrative holds several big surprises, the central question?Was Grace dupe and victim or seductress and instigator of the bloody crime??is left tantalizingly ambiguous. Major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
A sizable part of _Alias Grace_ is based on Susana Moodie's mid-19th century book about Grace Marks, who was convicted along with fellow servant, James McDermott, for the murders of Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper and mistress, Nancy Montgomery. Moodie met Grace Marks while the former was visiting the insane asylum and then the penitentary where Marks was later incarcerated. McDermott was hanged for his part in the murders; Marks was also condemned to die in the same manner, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison through the efforts of her attorney and of private citizens' groups who believed in her innocence. Much of Grace Marks' story is told by her, through a series of post-conviction interviews with Dr. Simon Jordan, a medical doctor who was a pioneer in the enlightened treatment of the mentally ill. Dr. Jordan is sponsored by a Reverend Verringer, who heads one of these groups.
What makes Margaret Atwood's novel so compelling is that much of what happens in _Alias Grace_ is based on true accounts of Grace Marks' life, which is seamlessly and expertly adapted by Ms. Atwood. She readily admits in her afterword "where hints and outright gaps exist in the record, I felt free to invent." Ms. Atwood is a master storyteller. Her Grace Marks is very much a three-dimensional, flesh and blood 19th century woman. The public's beliefs about her parallel many of the widely held views of females of her time. While many imagined Marks to be weak and easily led astray by a stronger and more wiley older man (Marks was only 16 at the time of the murders), others saw Marks as an evil and jealous temptress who entrapped a gullible man into the killings.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By S. John
Format:Paperback
Yes, the subject is dark: the murder of two people by (?) a teenage girl and handyman. If you liked that Japanese movie where the same story is told by different viewpoints, you'll love this. But you'll never lose track of whose 'voice' it is, or whose story it is - it's Grace's. And it's yours. You'll feel like you're right beside her as she sprinkles water on the handkerchiefs of the family's laundry to bleach them in the sun, delighting in the snap of the fresh linen on the line on a bright day, or as she struggles to remember what happened on the day of the murders. Incredibly rich writing that puts you in Grace's skin, and that of her temporary psychoanalyst. You'll find yourself rereading passages for the delight of the prose or to savor the weaving of the story. Heartbreaking but an ordinary story - after all, a casual murder for pitiful profit isn't new. Heartbreaking in its reality and the feeling of being carried on the tide of Ms. Atwood's words, knowing you're headed out to the cold, isolated heart of the Atlantic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Patchwork May 7 2001
Format:Paperback
Margaret Atwood's use of the quilt motif in Alias Grace serves not only a symbolic purpose, but also parallels lead character Grace Mark's revelation of her forgotten past and Atwood's structure of the novel.
In the beginning of the novel, the reader discovers that Grace has been convicted for involvement in the murders of her former employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper and mistress, Nancy Montgomery. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no recollection of the murders. Some people believe her innocent, while some people believe her evil or insane. However, as an up and coming expert in the field of Psychology, Dr. Simon Jordan is determined to uncover the truth. Throughout her sessions, Grace discusses various quilt patterns which Atwood uses as symbols. One pattern in particular Grace claims to be her favorite, "The Tree of Paradise". This quilt pattern serves as the symbol of her dreams and goals, for as long as she is a prisoner, she must only sew what she is told. Her perception of the quilt changes throughout the novel, however. Toward the beginning, Grace desires "the vine border", symbolic of the vine which grew out of Thomas Kinnear's grave, whom she secretly loved. Yet, toward the end of the novel, Grace borders the Tree of Paradise with snakes appearing as vines which represent the serpent in the Garden of Eden, much like her love for Kinnear that inspired her participation in the murders. Furthermore, as Grace serves as a dramatic character throughout the novel, her perception of good and evil is changed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MArgaret Atwood Biblical Cook May 3 2001
Format:Paperback
Margaret Atwood flavors Alias Grace with biblical allusions to make Grace Marks seem that much more substantial as a human being. The first introduction to Dr. Simon Jordan has Ms. Atwood adding in the Book of Job. When the doctor purposefully mentions "what Satan says to God" in the Book of Job, Grace realizes that the doctor has come to test her, and Atwood's biblical reference compares Dr. Johnson's test of Grace to one administered by God. Dr. Johnson further continues his embodiment of God by bringing her an apple which Grace clearly sees as "the apple of the Tree of Knowledge" so now Ms. Atwood has sprinkled in aspects of God's ultimate test. These indirect comparisons of Grace to Job and Eve obviously gives the reader a slightly new outlook on her. Grace's dream also has a biblical theme in it with "the pale horse that will be sent at the Day of Reckoning" and "the angels whose white robes were washed in blood , as it says in the end of the Bible". With such a morbid and overpowering biblical image of the Day of Reckoning diced into Grace's dream, Ms. Atwood makes the reader taste that Grace Marks can hardly qualify as just a normal person and that levels of complexity surround her. In the closing, Atwood again brings up the Tree of Paradise and dashes it in with the quilt motif that runs throughout the book. The quilt motif simply stands for the patchwork way in which Grace remembers things, one square at a time. This ties up with the Tree of Paradise with Grace making a quilt and "the pattern of this quilt is called the Tree of Paradise", and it serves the purpose of making the quilt seem sacrilegious and so making Grace's memory seem holy as well. While the reader may first think of Grace Marks as simply some loon because of the fact that she gets put in an insane asylum, Ms. Atwood quickly begins to develop an identity that makes her more important as a character by adding in a touch of God.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
This was an excellent book. I could not put it down. Excellent writing and research. I really enjoyed it.
A good buy.
Published 7 months ago by Tammy Gale
5.0 out of 5 stars An accurate and interesting sketch of mid-1800's life
I have never read Margaret Atwood before. She’s Canadian, after all, not a classical American or European author. But now I see, that was a mistake. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Don G.
2.0 out of 5 stars Alias Grace
This was my book club choice, and I didn't like it at all. I couldn't seem to get into it.
Published 13 months ago by letitia
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
I was utterly immersed and I didn't want this beautiful story to end.
One of Atwood's very best.
Published on Jan. 6 2010 by Ange
2.0 out of 5 stars Predictable story line
This story of Victorian age women done wrong, although true, is much too often told. I won't reveal the twists and turns, but, at least in the book on tape version, there are few... Read more
Published on March 27 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars An Absolutely Fantastic Book
Alias Grace is an extremely well written, very entertaining tale of murder and deception. Although the story was hard to follow at times because of the changing time periods and... Read more
Published on Nov. 22 2002
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Atwood's best
This is not Atwood's best book by a long stretch. 'The Handmaids Tale', 'the Robber Bride', and the especially exquisite 'The Blind Assassin' are much more enjoyable. Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best
This is a book that I probably would not have picked up on my own; it was a selection from my book club. I was immediately [stunk] into the story--I could not put it down. Read more
Published on April 7 2002 by Jennie Oxman
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Atwood Book so far
This is by far the best Atwood book I've ever read. I've also read her latest, THE BLIND ASSASSIN, and it's not as good. Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but not addicting
Margareth Atwood has written 1 book that I think of as a complete masterwork ('The handmaid's tale'), so I keep reading her other books in search of the same kind of experience,... Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2002 by Kiki De Boeck
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