Read Along Review One: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

When Catherine at Bookish Habits proposed a read along of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace I jumped at the chance to join. Participants have been encouraged to provide thoughts about the novel up to this point. (Final review post is scheduled for May 30th.) The following is a (very) brief overview of the thoughts that immediately come to mind upon reflection of my reading so far.

Grace Marks has been charged with the murder of her employer and his mistress. Years later, she spends her days tidying the home of a governor and his wife, as part of a penitentiary work program, and her nights, locked in a cell with no windows. When a young doctor (Simon), desiring to uncover the mysteries of mental health, and confirm her guilt or innocence, arrives to interview Grace, we see the story of her life up until the horrid event.

Like most of Atwood's titles the subject is dark and there's no shortage of internal dialogue dealing with complex feelings. However, the historical aspect has been refreshing, as Atwood's characters generally occupy a recent past or very desolate future landscape.  It's worth noting that while most of Alias Grace may be fiction, the trial of Grace Marks was very much an actual event that Canadians during the late 19th century witnessed.

The alternate narrative between Dr. Simon and Grace is effective, as it highlights the question of authenticity that comprises the heart of the novel. The reader is forced to regard two very different perspectives in quick succession. This method of examination, I'll admit, becomes taxing at times and forces me to set it aside. However, the brilliance of Atwood's work never ceases to amaze me.

I'll admit I've struggled with the bleak subject matter and despondent language, which make the novel a little harder to pick up. While the action may be slow in coming, the landscape is vibrant and tangible in a way that other works could never touch. I'm still formulating my thoughts on the woman question in this title.. so I'll be getting back to you on that.

Verdict: Still glad I decided to participate! It's Margaret Atwood. So, really, how could I not be?  Looking forward to reading other reviews along the way! Be sure to check out Brenna's first review over at Literary Musings.


  1. I love the setting too - it's interesting to see what Atwood does with something so different from her usual fare. I actually really enjoy the alternating narratives, though in general I tend to go for that sort of thing. I like seeing how different characters experience similar things and the contexts of their perceptions. I can see how it would be jarring though.

  2. Jennifer,
    Yes! I think I don't mind the style of narrative so much but I find that the way it's used to discern fact from fiction here is just so much more important given Grace's livelihood is at stake. I find that it takes the reader to whole other level and maybe isn't required when reading other books.

  3. I had a slump with this one after about 100 pages in, but for me its picked up again. As a reader I feel like I am distanced from the characters, or at least Grace and Simon, because of the dispassionate, almost impartial tone. That may be what put me off for awhile. What I am enjoying most is the historical aspect of the text. I really haven't read much historical fiction so it feels new to me, but also familiar since I've read a good chunk of Atwood's other novels.

    I agree with your statement that the method of the alternate narration does feel taxing and I find that when I'm reading Simon's narration of the novel, I can't wait to get back to Grace. I find her point of view so much more interesting.

    Great write up of your first impressions! I hope the novel picks up a bit more and we are given some answers by the end!

  4. Brenna,
    Yes, I would completely agree that I feel distanced from the characters. I'm viewing this while sitting under the cloak of invisibility in the sewing room. :)
    And I am always ready to see Simon's letters and droning come to a close so that Grace picks back up again. Far more interesting.
    There better be some answers or I will throw a temper tantrum because I've been putting off a lot of other new reads to see what Grace gives us.
    All kidding aside, I'm ready for the conclusion and the reader wrap-up!

  5. I tend to find Atwood a bit hit and miss - I love Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye but I couldn't get through the Blind Assassin. This one sounds great, I secretly enjoy all the True Crime documentaris on TV so the subject matter appeals to me :P

  6. I actually like the alternative narratives, although I agree that Grace's is more compelling. Her observations are quite humorous at times and spot on in others, but I also love Simon's inner monologue poking fun at high society and do-gooders, though it could be more out of bitterness at his current reduction in circumstances than genuine exasperation.

    Getting to the actual event does seem to take quite some time - I hope you won't be disappointed! And your point about authenticity is fantastic - with so many little nuances it's hard to find them all or find time to mention them.

  7. Hi Beth,
    Incidentally, I too am participating in a Margaret Atwood reading challenge, and the first book we are reading is The Edible Woman. I must say I never thought I would like or enjoy Atwood so much.
    Really liked your blog.You have fantastic taste in books! Following you now...
    Please do visit my blog about books at
    and if you like it, please do follow. Thank you!


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