Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace
By Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Anchor Books
ISBN: 9780385490443
Pages: 486
Genre: Historical Fiction



In Alias Grace, bestselling author Margaret Atwood has written her most captivating, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying work since The Handmaid’s Tale. She takes us back in time and into the life of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century.

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?


While significantly different from my usual reading selections, Alias Grace is a standing reminder that regardless of the past hurdles I have encountered with some of Atwood’s work, I can and do still hold a deep admiration and respect for it.

Set in the 19th century, Alias Grace follows the events unfolding after the conviction of young Grace Marks for her involvement in the heinous murder of her employer and his head housekeeper alongside stable boy James McDermott. Dr. Simon Jordan interviews Grace daily in an effort to restore memories of the fateful day she claims to have no recollection of. There are those who believe in her guilt and those who wish to see her pardoned. But whether Grace is truly innocent or indeed a manipulative and cunning murderess remains a mystery.

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While Alias Grace is a work of fiction, it has been based around the real life case of Grace Marks, an Irish-Canadian housemaid who was charged in the murder of Thomas Kinnear (her employer) and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery in 1843. The trial and conviction caused a large amount of controversy as there were many who believed she was an unwilling accomplice to the murders and that James McDermott was solely responsible. She was pardoned 30 years after being sentenced and relocated to New York. The case is still shrouded in mystery.

It is hard to discuss what Margaret Atwood delivers in Alias Grace to full extent without leaving enough revelation for potential readers. This is a slower paced, character study that immerses the reader into the 19th century and explores the relationship between men and women. It touches on themes of women’s social standing and treatment as well as exploring the practices and changes occurring within the field of mental health.

Grace is a complex and perplexing character with a natural intelligence and intuition that often leaves you questioning her capabilities and motives.  I found myself absorbed in her story and often less concerned with her guilt and more so with what actually happened. Dr. Jordan is equally fascinating with his youthful passion for the evolving mental health practice and asylums and sometimes questionable actions. The point of view weaves between the two with snippets of news-clippings and letters, providing a cleverly alternating perspective that manages a suspicious and uncertain narrative. All of this feeds the beautiful mystery that is Grace Marks elegantly.

“…I was shut up inside that doll of myself and my true voice could not get out.” 


While the leisurely pace and sometimes disjointed narration can require an adjustment period, the end result is an unexpectedly inviting and puzzling experience that challenges the reader to confront those heavier topics and message concealed within. It is a story told in a manner that only Atwood can. Brilliantly patient, yet equally rich and rewarding.

tea cupPairs well with an Irish Breakfast blend served with milk.

Purchase Links: Book Depository

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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43 thoughts on “Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

  1. Lovely review; I love this book and need to reread it after I finish watching the series, which I also am thoroughly enjoying although I’ve not been watching much in the past couple of weeks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, what a beautiful review 🙂 And this sounds like Atwood structured it similarly to The Blind Assassin. It took me a few chapters to get into a rhythm with that book, but now that I’m forewarned maybe it won’t take as long with Alias Grace 🙂 I’m definitely looking forward to picking this up off my shelf now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She is she a wonderful author, but I struggle with slower paced titles depending on how atmospheric they are and other factors. This one lined up beautifully for me and I found I was fully immersed. I think the realy history of Grace Marks also drew me further in!


  3. I haven’t read any of Atwood’s work, remarkably, but this one seems interesting. I like when authors base works on historic events. I like to see how they interpret the events and comment on them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No actually. I believe The Handmaid’s Tale was. Also a favorite. But I had to reread it at an older age to fully appreciate it. Hag-Seed was one I failed to connect with (Hogarth). But I have always admired her. I am hoping to explore more of her work. Any favorites? Do you read her work?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I started Robber Bride when I was probably 17 because it is my mom’s favourite. But I think I was a little to young for her writing, or maybe just that book. Now I’m a little lost where to start, one friend told me to start with The Handmaid’s Tale. But I don’t always like hyped books so now I don’t know haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I think from now on when I see a new hit series or movie, I need to check if there’s a book first. I’m so mad that I spoiled this for myself, because your review makes it sound like a book I really would have liked. I love your tea pairing recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have to admit, I have not yet read anything by Atwood… I did see all the ads about The Handmaid’s Tale when the series came out on screen and thought it looked like something I would dig. I think my limited brainpower is holding me back from titles such as this but I am glad you are doing the hard work for me and telling me about those books 😀 It does sound interesting, so who knows… As someone who hasn’t read anything by Atwood yet, what would you recommend starting with?

    Liked by 1 person

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