Alias Grace isn’t what I expected. I suppose I thought this would be similar to Atwood’s most famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. And it was in some ways, especially in the tone of the main character. Though I can’t quite call Grace a protagonist, as Offred is in the aforementioned classic of dystopian literature. What I wasn’t expecting was very well researched historical fiction.
“Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you. It has a smell to it, that word – musky and oppressive, like dead flowers in a vase. Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.”
I’m not sure how this happened, but I somehow managed to completely miss the fact that this novel was based on a true story until I reached the afterword. Grace’s story is fascinating, and is made even more so by the fact that she was a real woman and the crime she was accused of really happened. Because no one quite knew what was truth in regards to Grace’s life and possible guilt, Atwood took it upon herself to give Grace a fictional voice and allow her to tell her side of events. Atwood did this brilliantly, giving Grace a voice that rang true.
“If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”
This book could skew much too descriptive for many readers. However, I wallowed in the descriptions found in Grace’s tale, as they did much to aid the setting in time and place, and brilliantly illuminated Grace’s character and what made her tick. Grace is obsessed with the physical, and she laces her story as she tells it to Dr. Jordan with a minutely detailed account of her wardrobe and the wardrobes and belongings of others present in her tale. As she is a talented seamstress, this would appear fairly natural. But on further consideration, it shows how much material goods matter to Grace, and seems to convey a lack of caring and compassion about her fellow human beings. She carefully studies every situation and assumes the role she determines is expected of her without showing much real emotion. I found her wily and cunning, and by the end of the book I was still just as unsure of her guilt or innocence as I was of her character.
“A prison does not only lock its inmates inside, it keeps all others out. Her strongest prison is of her own construction.”
Atwood really knows how to write. The craftsmanship of this book is impeccable, and the prose definitely helped draw me deeper into the story. Atwood deserves the accolades she has received over the course of her career. She is truly on of the masters of the craft for our time.