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Alias Grace

Author: Atwood, Margaret

Genre: Novel

Year: 1996


Well wrought novel based in 19th century Canada. An accused murderess with amnesia is imprisoned for life tells her story to young American doctor. Can his modern techniques help her recall events around the death of her employer and his mistress?

Alias Grace, like all of Margaret Atwood's works, is not simple, but it yields great rewards. Atwood based the story on the life of Grace Marks, a Canadian servant girl convicted in 1842 at the age of sixteen for conspiring with a fellow servant, James McDermott (rumored to be her lover) to murder her employer and his housekeeper. Acquaintances and the press offered widely divergent portrayals of Grace: a poor innocent swept up into McDermott's evildoings; a temptress who incited McDermott to murder; a jealous coquette covetous of the housekeeper's questionable, preferential relationship with their employer; a madwoman incapable of remorse or reason.

Atwood tells Grace's story through Grace's first-person account of her life, trial records, press articles, and poems, and through the third-person story of Dr. Simon Jordan, a young physician interested in mental illness who interviews Grace in an effort to establish what really happened. A parallel plot involves Jordan's increasing obsession with Grace and the social, professional, and psychological dangers into which it leads him. Alias Grace is a bit like the movie Rashomon and its subsequent imitators; multiple narratives relate the same story (or pieces of it), and yet they can differ widely in their accounts, creating a whole that doesn't always add up, but is intriguing and engaging nonetheless."

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