At times I feel woefully fraudulent to even try to comment on Margaret Atwood’s writing. I will instead point to this review in the New York Times and say: exactly.
It always feels like it is going to be a daunting task to sit down and read an award-winning work of literature. I suppose I should read this book, to prove that i am well read. Thinking this always precedes the reading of the book, whether it is Dickens, Austen, or more modern writers like Ms. Atwood, but one forgets that writing is a form of communication and those who are best at it, can make something easy to read, even while writing in high Gothic (as described by the above referenced New York Times article). I cannot say the same about those pesky Russians, but that is for another post (Yes, I am talking about you, Messrs. Tolstoy and Bulgakov). I digress, though. Alias Grace, like other of Atwood’s work, was no more a ponderous tome than To Kill A Mockingbird, which is another story dealing with dark matters (pun not intended, truly).
Thematically, Alias Grace is exactly placed in its nineteenth century time period, again, as stated in the New York Times Review. I would disagree with the review about the pedagogy only on the account that this tended to be the style of the times (having come from recently finishing a ponderous tome of all of Edgar Allen Poe’s works), and having read Frankenstein which is of a similar ilk.
Unqualified though I may be to comment on Atwood’s writing, I must offer a bit of self-congratulations for picking out the Gothic bit of the novel well in advance of reading it in the New York Times. This part being, of course, the neuro-hypnosis of Grace by Jeremiah, or Dr. DuPont as he was then called. It is here that we see the manifestation of someone or something that is supposed to be Mary Whitney. This is where the big question comes in about whether Grace was faking or not. Was she just pretending that Mary Whitney was inhabiting her so she could say scandalous things without reprimand or censure, or was she truly suffering from dissociative identity disorder? That is the question that the novel never answers. We are left to our own conclusions. The twenty-first century cynic in me wants to say that she knew exactly what she was doing and that she manipulated James McDermott into killing Nancy at least, and that the warden of the penitentiary was right and she was a master manipulator. The less jaded part of my psyche wants to think that Grace really was an innocent victim in everything, and that she did experience a psychotic break – hence the Mary Whitney persona. Barring some serious Sci-Fi time travel and mind-reading capabilities, we will never know.