Read Along Wrap-Up: Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace

"There are always those that will supply you with speeches of their own, and put them right into your mouth for you too."

Let me start by saying that I'm so glad I participated in this read along. For the first time, in a long time, I was challenged by a work to a degree that was both refreshing and frustrating. I feel that the entire experience has made it almost impossible for me to offer any valuable insight. I'll admit that I chose to read this title during the busiest part of my year to date. I traveled to Washington DC to see a friend graduate, I attended a wedding, a couple of birthday parties AND opened an Etsy shop. Needless to say, it's been a challenge just making the time to sit down and read. It took me an entire month to polish off ONE title, so that certainly helps to make my case.  

Aside from the time, Atwood's work requires serious attention to detail, because there are no words or sentences or paragraphs placed anywhere unintentionally. A re-read would probably be beneficial as I feel there's so much I missed. 

NOTE: spoilers ahead! 

Short recap: 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.  

Dr. Simon is sent to determine Grace's innocence, so that she may finally be released to return to a normal life. NOTE: Let's focus on Truth v. Fiction. However, as Grace slowly tells her story, it's clear that there is so much more than the words leaving her mouth. The doubt, on behalf of the reader, builds as the pace of her story is slow enough to force much deliberation. The audience feels the frustration that Dr. Simon, himself, feels, sitting in the small sewing room with the famed murderess. Furthermore, between Grace's narrative, the audience is also witnessing Dr. Simon's life outside of his case, as well as Grace's own thoughts. We understand that she tells stories that she believes Dr. Simon will enjoy, but how much is fabricated? All the while, Grace never actually ponders her guilt or innocence, only the acceptance of the lot she's assumed. 

There are many dream sequences that are questionable. Was Grace actually in the grip of a walking sleep, or was it all a lucid dream when she finds herself out of doors, in the middle of the night, in nothing but her sleeping gown? 

Many of her "confessions" are convincing. However, it seems that after hearing so many others tell her story, she is quite uncertain of some events herself. The sensationalism and gossip of the period (well, throughout time) plays a large role in the way everyone views Grace, notwithstanding evidence that may suggest otherwise. I will note that I found it rather interesting that those rooting for her release were using the argument that she was "possessed" or had multiple personalities, therefore, should not assume responsibility? A sign of the time to be sure. 

The story concludes without much resolution. The audience is still left to ponder Grace's guilt or innocence. I believe the last sentence made me lean towards the former, as she so curiously sews a little quilt with pieces of Mary and Nancy's garments so that they'll all "be together." Grace is released after 30 years of incarceration and goes on to marry one of her accusers, the boy, Jamie Walsh. Which brings up questions of sadism, but that's another post altogether. Did anyone else notice the reoccurring theme of sadism? Perhaps that was just me. 

There are words that come to mind when I think about this novel, namely: suffering, guilt, indecision, spirituality, dreams, and desires. Grace is much less the evil temptress that so many believe her to be. She expresses a love for the simple beauties of an ordinary life. However, the reader can never be certain as to what Grace Marks truly thinks.

There are whole chapters displaying Dr. Simon's life while staying in Kingston to perform his interviews. He ends up going so far that he is forced to flee and never actually learns what he's worked so hard to procure. We definitely see his desires for Grace, and for a life that he does not lead, acted upon his landlady, the pitiful, Mrs. Humphrey. However, it's clear that Dr. Simon often believes he is the smarter of the sexes and completely dismisses the fact that those relations may have plots of their own. I am certain that this side of Dr. Simon's life plays an integral role in the overarching story; however, I've yet to make it any clear connections. In the end, I warmed up to Dr. Simon as many readers pointed out that he had noble intentions and was far more progressive than many in his position during this period.  

Let's talk about the seance scene, shall we? Totally don't have anything to offer there. 
All and all, I walked away from this novel with far more questions than answers. I'm looking forward to reading other reviews to gain more insight so my head doesn't feel like mush. Once again, Margaret Atwood has blown me away and offered a huge challenge. Thanks Zeteticat for hosting! 

Note: Reading the author's notes was very fascinating. The case was so incredibly sensational, prompting news in Canada, US and Britain; however, once Grace was actually released, she managed to drop off the map completely.  


  1. The seance scene was definitely interesting. It's hard to know what to make of it. I believe in hypnotism, but does that apply to a second consciousness? Could Grace have fabricated it? I guessed the multiple personality angle early on, but that's all based on what we've heard from Grace, and she's had a long time to make that story work (if, indeed, it is a fabrication, which I tended to think it was not).

    I was so conflicted about Simon. I liked him early on but he became so hateful as we see more of him. For example, his dialogues about prostitutes - he says such awful things about them but has no problem with hiring them! He definitely believes he is part of the superior sex. Early on, I though he wasn't as bad as other men for that time, but later I thought that he just classed it up with a veneer of education. I held it against him when he left, and didn't even think about Grace until he was already gone.

  2. Jennifer,
    I guess I didn't really pick up on the multiple personalities. I think I took her relationship with Mary Whitney as a sign that she was lonely thus forging a relationship that was slightly dependent. Mary Whitney seemed to say all the things Grace herself wished to voice. The seance scene was very abrupt considering the language and etc.
    I agree that Simon's character was a loss. I am having a hard time drawing connections between his private life and the overall story. He seemed to suddenly flee, and, like you said, fail to think about Grace at all despite his longings. I'm determined to scour the internet to find more information about all these links I'm failing to put together.

  3. I also walked away with more questions than answers, but I kind of also loved that :)

    Great review, Beth! I have to say I did not notice the reoccurring theme of sadism, but I bet I would on a second reading, now that you pointed it out. Like you, I am leaning toward the explanation that Mary Whitney had possessed Grace, but that just might be because I want to believe it. I can't imagine Grace herself to have done anything evil, so I'd like to believe Mary made her do it. However, I still feel like Grace was hiding something and not giving us the whole truth. Ah.. the questions!

    Anyhow, I think this was a fantastic read-along choice! I had fun participating with you all, even if I was late on the final post :/

  4. Brenna,
    Perhaps I'm coming to the conclusion that I don't love open ended novels as much as I'd like to believe. I will say that I enjoyed it, but I felt that there were so many details that it was almost overwhelming. I, too, don't think Mary was capable of the brutal murders, but then doubt that feeling as well.
    I agree that it was the perfect choice!

  5. I read Alias Grace last year and I loved it, in fact, it is one of my favourite novels. I do agree taht I finished the book with more questions that answers, but, somehow I managed to take Grace's side more than Dr. Simon's. I found myself thinking that she could only lie to escape, as many other women did. For me, it was a question of survival and recalled Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew": eventually, does Kate really subject to her husband or does she play a part to save her life? Same with Grace. I had read about women who, not fitting the social roles of their times, were punished by the law and labelled as "crazy" (and therefore, subjected to the scariest treatments ever). What I did conclude was that, an asylum was a far better option than jail.

  6. Oh my God, my previous comment was lost! To sum it up:

    Alias Grace was one of my favourite novels from last year and I plan on re-reading it soon. I took Grace's side and even established a comparison with Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" Kate: did she really subject or was she playing a role to survive. Same with Grace: she was far better at the asylum than in jail. She managed to survive and make the most of her situation whether she was guilty or not. Plus, she was such a complex character! I felt she was playing with me and I kind of liked it.


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