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on September 5, 2013
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. Alias Grace is one of the best books I have ever read. It is the first of Atwood’s many novels I will be reading.

It is an accurate portrayal, among other things, of a time in Ontario before automobiles, electricity, cinema and paved rural highways. It is a retelling of the double murder in Richmond Hill in the eighteen fifties for which one perpetrator was hanged and the other, Grace Marks, while sentenced to death, initially, was commuted to life imprisonment. The question throughout the book: was she really guilty at all? It is a fictional account but rings veraciously and realistically true to the reader. There’s a little violence and a bit of romance or maybe I should just classify it as eroticism but it holds ones interest from page to page. A really interesting read.
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on July 18, 2017
I enjoyed the book. It was suspenseful and I am not sure if Grace took part in the murders or not.she may be a great actress.
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on July 12, 2017
Margaret Atwood at her best!
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on August 5, 2017
Loved it. A page turner for me.
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on June 20, 2017
Story bounces from one person/topic to another so quickly,,, its hard to keep straight!! Also very "dry" reading.
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on February 12, 2002
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. Atwood also sensitively reveals the plight of many young girls of the period who suddenly become motherless and due to their changed cicumstances take positions as servants to the wealthy, or worse yet, are forced into prostitution. The alternative was pennilessness and ultimate starvation. Then there are those young women who fell prey to a "gentleman's" amorous demands, some of whom promised marriage, only to later abandon them. A truly heartbreaking episode in the book concerns Mary Whitney, a co-worker and close friend of Grace Marks, who dies as a result of a shoddily performed abortion.
By the end of the book the reader is given no definitive answer as to whether Marks was directly involved in either of the two murders. Her complexity is further revealed in the section of the book where a doctor (of the jack-of-all-trades type) puts her under hypnosis and another aspect of her personality is revealed. Grace Marks is confirmed as a woman of many sides, capable of acts of goodness, compassion--but murder? Read the very highly recommended book and then decide for yourself.
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on April 29, 2000
"Alias Grace" is a stunning novel and a remarkable literary achievement by Margaret Atwood. It is the fictionalized account of Grace Marks, a woman who was tried and convicted for the murder of her employer and a fellow servant in Canada during the 1800's. Atwood depicts the life of Grace Marks poignantly. Grace is born into a very poor family and tragically loses her mother at a young age during a horrible sea voyage from Ireland to Canada. After reaching Canada, Grace is hired out as a domestic in various households. Eventually, she winds up working in the Kinnear household where the murders occur. A large and fascinating portion of the book is devoted to Grace's recollections as told to Simon Jordan, a medical doctor who specializes in diseases of the mind. "Alias Grace" is populated with a large cast of Dickensian characters who are vividly described. The book is filled with delicious sardonic humor. In addition, "Alias Grace" is a social commentary, since Atwood indicts the cruel treatment of the "lower classes" in the 1800's. The detailed descriptions of Grace's endless duties as a servant while the masters of the household live a life of indolence are particularly powerful. Atwood uses clever literary devices to add texture to the novel. She quotes songs and other true life accounts of Grace's "crime," and there is even a drawing of Grace and her "accomplice". Atwood shifts points of view, so that we get the story from different angles. Atwood's style of storytelling is so engrossing that I was completely drawn into this world. Don't miss this excellent novel!
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on January 11, 2000
I don't know what all these people are talking about--something is strange here. This is one of the most tedious, boring and mundane reads EVER. How anyone could think this book is "excellent" baffles the mind--the plot goes nowhere (slowly) which is a divine form of literary torture. Trust me, this book sucks!
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on September 10, 2001
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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on May 7, 2001
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. To illustrate this revelation, Grace makes only one tree in the pattern, as she has now come to believe that in the Garden of Eden there were never two different trees, but only one that contained both the "Fruit of Life" and the "Fruit of Good and Evil". Therefore, this quilt pattern inspired many of the symbols implemented by Atwood throughout the novel.
In addition, Atwood uses Grace's quilt-making to parallel her remembrance of the murders and her journey toward freedom. As Jordan's sessions with the convicted murderer uncover lost memories, Grace continues to sew a quilt. In the beginning of the novel, the quilt is unfinished and after it is completed, it is to be given to the Governor's daughter. In a happy turn of events, Grace is able to sew a quilt of her own at the end of the novel. Thus, as the plot unfolds, Grace receives not only revelation of her past, paralleled by the progress of the Governor's daughter's quilt, but freedom, paralleled by her ability to sew her own quilt.
Furthermore, the quilt motif is implemented by Atwood to parallel the structure of the novel. As Grace discovers the truth behind the past, she must piece the facts together, much like the design of a quilt, in order to make something of it all. Fittingly, the titles of the chapters of the novel are named after real quilt patterns such as "Jagged Edge", "Secret Drawer", and "Pandora's Box". Thus, not only does the name of a chapter adequately describe its content, it also contributes to the quilt motif on a deeper level. These uses of the quilt motif allow both the structure of the plot and titles in the novel to parallel that of a quilt.
Just like a seamstress uses thread to create a beautiful, elaborate quilt, Atwood uses the quilt motif to symbolize the feelings of Grace and parallel her recollection in the structure of the story which comprises this beautiful, elaborate novel, Alias Grace.
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