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Alias Grace
Cover of Alias Grace
Alias Grace
A Novel
In this astonishing tour de force, Margaret Atwood takes the reader back in time and into the life and mind of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century. In 1843, at the...
In this astonishing tour de force, Margaret Atwood takes the reader back in time and into the life and mind of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century. In 1843, at the...
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Description-

  • In this astonishing tour de force, Margaret Atwood takes the reader back in time and into the life and mind of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century. In 1843, at the age of sixteen, servant girl Grace Marks was convicted for her part in the vicious murders of her employer and his mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders. As Dr. Simon Jordan -- an expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness -- tries to unlock her memory, what will he find? Was Grace a femme fatale -- or a weak and unwilling victim of circumstances? Taut and compelling, penetrating and wise, Alias Grace is a beautifully crafted work of the imagination that vividly evokes time and place. The novel and its characters will continue to haunt the reader long after the final page.

Excerpts-

  • Chapter One

    I am sitting on the purple velvet settee in the Governor's parlour, the Governor's wife's parlour; it has always been the Governor's wife's parlour although it is not always the same wife, as they change them around according to the politics. I have my hands folded in my lap the proper way although I have no gloves. The gloves I would wish to have would be smooth and white, and would be without a wrinkle.

    I am often in this parlour, clearing away the tea things and dusting the small tables and the long mirror with the frame of grapes and leaves around its and the pianoforte; and the tall clock that came from Europe, with the orange-gold sun and the silver moon, that go in and out according to the time of day and the week of the month. I like the clock best of anything in the parlour, although it measures time and I have too much of that on my hands already.

    But I have never sat down on the settee before, as it is for the guests. Mrs. Alderman Parkinson said a lady must never sit in a chair a gentleman has just vacated, though she would not say why; but Mary Whitney said, Because, you silly goose, it's still warm from his bum; which was a coarse thing to say. So I cannot sit here without thinking of the ladylike bums that have sat on this very settee, all delicate and white, like wobbly softboiled eggs.

    The visitors wear afternoon dresses with rows of buttons up their fronts, and stiff wire crinolines beneath. It's a wonder they can sit down at all, and when they walk, nothing touches their legs under the billowing skirts, except their shifts and stockings. They are like swans, drifting along on unseen feet; or else like the jellyfish in the waters of the rocky harbour near our house, when I was little, before I ever made the long sad journey across the ocean. They were bell-shaped and ruffled, gracefully waving and lovely under the sea; but if they washed up on the beach and dried out in the sun there was nothing left of them. And that is what the ladies are like: mostly water.

    There were no wire crinolines when I was first brought here. They were horsehair then, as the wire ones were not thought of. I have looked at them hanging in the wardrobes, when I go in to tidy and empty the slops. They are like birdcages; but what is being caged in? Legs, the legs of ladies; legs penned in so they cannot get out and go rubbing up against the gentlemen's trousers. The Governor's wife never says legs, although the newspapers said legs when they were talking about Nancy, with her dead legs sticking out from under the washtub.

    It isn't only the jellyfish ladies that come. On Tuesdays we have the Woman Question, and the emancipation of this or that, with reform-minded persons of both sexes; and on Thursdays the Spiritualist Circle, for tea and conversing with the dead, which is a comfort to the Governor's wife because of her departed infant son. But mainly it is the ladies. They sit sipping from the thin cups, and the Governor's wife rings a little china bell. She does not like being the Governor's wife, she would prefer the Governor to be the governor of something other than a prison. The Governor had good enough friends to get him made the Governor, but not for anything else.

    So here she is, and she must make the most of her social position and accomplishments, and although an object of fear, like a spider, and of charity as well, I am also one of the accomplishments. I come into the room and curtsy and move about, mouth straight, head bent, and I pick up the cups or set them down, depending; and they stare without appearing to, out from under their bonnets.

    The reason they want to see me is that I am a celebrated murderess. Or that is...

About the Author-

  • MARGARET ATWOOD is the internationally acclaimed author of more than forty books. Her novels include The Edible Woman, Surfacing, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. Among the awards and honours she has received are the Booker Prize, the Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, the Premio Mondello (Italy), the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature (Spain), the Dan David Prize (Israel), and the World Economic Forum's Crystal Award. Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 30, 1999
    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.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 13, 1997
    In Atwood's latest, the notorious 19th-century murderess Grace Marks tells her story in a Toronto asylum.

  • Maclean's

    "Brilliantly realized, intellectually provocative and maddeningly suspenseful."

  • Sunday Times (U.K.) "Atwood confirms her status as the outstanding novelist of our age."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Atwood not only crafts an eerie, unsettling tale of murder and obsession, but also a stunning portrait of the lives of women in another time."
  • Ottawa Citizen "A masterpiece...perhaps Atwood's best, most important novel to date."
  • Sydney Morning Herald "A great book of such wit, wisdom and dazzling storytelling that it leaves me in no doubt that Atwood is the most outstanding novelist currently writing in English."
  • Booklist "Atwood's humor has never been slyer, her command of complex material more adept, her eroticism franker....This is a stupendous performance. . . ."
  • New York Review of Books "[Atwood] has surpassed herself, writing with a glittering, singing intensity...."
  • Calgary Herald "Stunning....Atwood is in perfect control. And her fusion of real events and fiction is as contemporary as it is ingenious."
  • Washington Post Book World "A rare and splendid novel that pulls you in and won't let go...."
  • Independent on Sunday (U.K.) "Atwood's imaginative control of her period flows, irresistible and superb....[She] has pushed the art to its extremes and the result is devastating. This, surely, is as far as a novel can go."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "Seductive, beautifully articulated....Brilliantly conceived and executed...."
  • Financial Post "Astonishing...."
  • London Free Press "A sublime read....As satisfying as the best whodunit."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred review) "An absorbing and brilliantly told story."

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