Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Summer Reading Challenge: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

So, four days in and I have finished the first book! I decided to start with Alias Grace which was a great decision. There are a few books on the list which are just slightly more heavy-going, whereas this was one that I could just lose myself in and really relax after my last exam. 

Alias Grace is based on the murders of Thomas Kinnear and housekeeper Nancy Montgomery committed in 1843. Their servants James McDermott and Grace Marks were tried for it, with McDermott being hung and Marks sentenced to life imprisonment. The novel is focused on Grace and is told in quite an interesting way. Each chapter is preceded by a mix of excerpts, such as James and Grace's confessions, Susanna Moodie's accounts of Grace, and various snippets of poetry. I really liked this as they set up the sorts of themes that would be explored in the chapter. Also, it took me faaaar too long to notice that each chapter was named after a different quilt with a small square of pattern. Throughout the novel Grace talks about different quilts and what they represent, which I found quite interesting as I used to do a bit of textiles! 

I found the narration style really engaging as it switched between Grace and Simon's points of view. Simon is a doctor interested in amnesia researching Grace's case as there are various moments to do with the murder that Grace says she doesn't remember. This is another of the aspects of the book that I enjoyed. I actually found Grace quite likeable, so I had to keep reminding myself that she is potentially a murderess! She has quite a compelling way of speaking as she was relating her life to Simon. The fact about this murder case is that there are various details that are strange, and it isn't definitively clear to what level Grace was involved in the murders. The book explores this and I felt myself getting sucked into Grace's narrative whilst trying to remember not to trust everything she says. I won't spoil anything so I shall only say that there is an answer of a sort given, but with enough room for ambiguity that you can make your own mind up. Whilst I can't say that I actually particularly liked Simon as a person, I did appreciate what his point of view brought to the narrative. I enjoy books that present several different points of view as it is a reminder that in a first person perspective, everything is subjective. Grace makes judgements of Simon during their interviews, and then you switch to Simon's point of view and find out that not all her judgements are actually astute. The fact that you get a male and female perspective is also an interesting element as it explores the two gender's responses to similar events. One thing that stuck with me is the way that Grace's narrative highlights the way that women are always blamed for things (such as pre-marital pregnancies) whereas Simon's narrative showed male figures thinking women got off easy(such as Grace's murder trial)

I am going to avoid talking too much about the plot as I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I was definitely satisfied when I finished this, but there was just enough ambiguity remaining that I still had questions. Hence why I don't want to spoil anything for you guys!
I really did enjoy this book and found it very hard to put down. It grabbed me right from the beginning and even now I've finished it I have found my mind revisiting aspects and questioning them. This is my third Margaret Atwood book and I am really like how different the subject of each is. I am definitely looking forward to reading more of her work soon. As for the Summer Reading Challenge, I feel like it is off to a good start!

Have you guys ever read this, or any other Margaret Atwood books? If so, what did you think?

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