Review: Alias Grace

Alias GraceAlias Grace
by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alias Grace / 0-385-49044-5

I love all of Margaret Atwood's books, but I love "Alias Grace" in particular. The story and the heroine are shaped so carefully and with such subtlety that one can never be certain if the 'celebrated murderess' is an innocent pawn in something much larger than she can fathom or a calculating liar capable of committing cold murder and getting away with it.

There are so many layers of meaning within in "Alias Grace". One layer is that of "perception" - Grace is never truly *understood* by the people around her, rather she is *perceived* according to their own biases and prejudices. Throughout the novel, Grace is perceived numerous times, by numerous people, to be and hold a large number of contradictory states and emotions, but these observers only seek to confirm their preconceptions - never to refine or refute those preconceptions with the facts.

Another important subtext here is that of the crucial power differences between men and women of the time period. Grace is completely defined by the men in her life: she crosses oceans at the behest of her uncle, and all her jobs (each of which shape and direct her life) are gotten, held, and left in an endless series of fleeing from dangerous men - her father, her male employers, and so forth. Ultimately, she becomes embroiled in a dangerous situation that may not be of her own choosing, largely because she is powerless in comparison to all the men who control her life.

In contrast, Grace's doctor serves as a subtle parallel to this powerlessness. He also finds himself controlled by domineering women, but when time and circumstance maneuver him into a relationship that could result in a parallel to Grace's fateful past, he is able to utilize the privileges of his birth and resources to flee the situation in a manner that Grace could not. We come to understand that Grace - guilty or innocent - was in some ways doomed from birth, merely for the poor choice of being born female, common, and poor. Would things have turned out differently if she had had access to a stronger support system? Atwood dangles the possibility before us gracefully, but we can never really be sure.

~ Ana Mardoll

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