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Alias Grace (at last)

One of my favorite quotations from Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace:
It is morning, and time to get up; and today I must go on with the story. Or the story must go on with me, carrying me inside it, along the track it must travel, straight to the end, weeping like a train and deaf and single-eyed and locked tight shut; although I hurl myself against the walls of it and scream and cry, and beg to God himself to let me out.

When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.

I love this section of the book because I think it encapsulates some important aspects of the main character and the narrative style. I think Atwood has a real talent for writing very persuasively from the perspective of widely different characters ... often within a single book (definitely true here and in The Robber Bride, for example). In the section I’ve quoted, I think the main character (Grace, if you hadn’t guessed) communicates a strong sense of feeling imprisoned, powerless, confused, and yet simultaneously in a position of power as a storyteller who has control over the shaping of past events through a narrative.

While I found some aspects of Grace’s thoughts here compelling, when I thought about this section a bit more I realized that it also sounds like a way of abdicating responsibility for past actions in our lives by implying that one is powerless in the moment, pulled along by the momentum of the world, and that power can only be found afterward, in the recounting of events. This sounds a bit like a philosophy I would expect to hear from "Tony", since it would excuse any wrongdoings by self or others and also give everyone permission to tell stories that shape events to form a "good" story. Hrmph.

But this didn’t make me like the book any less. In fact, it made me like it more, since I love a book that makes me think, and potentially even gives me opportunities to understand other ways of thinking and seeing the world. This book gave me lots of such opportunities, so ... well ... reading this book was quite a bit like Grace’s feeling that "the story must go on with me, carrying me inside it, along the track it must travel." I was pulled along throughout ... it was difficult to put the book down, and so I probably would have read it in one sitting if I weren’t having so many problems with my concentration.

There are a lot of things I loved about the book, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet read it. It doesn’t spoil anything, though, for me to add that I appreciated the doubling and tripling of characters throughout the book, the most pervasive being Grace herself: Is she an innocent victim, an unrepentant murderess, or a madwoman? Atwood interweaves this basic question with many different characters, stories, and themes. Again, I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t read it. So go read it!

Well, only if you want to, of course. But I do recommend it.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2003 12:14 pm (UTC)
I like Margaret Atwood's books quite a bit, but I also find them emotionally exhausting. The situations that her characters deal with tend to be so raw and hurtful, and she does such a good job of making you really feel empathy for these folks, that I find them occasionally painful to read.

So, she's definitely on my no more than once a year, and only when I'm feeling top notch list.
Jan. 16th, 2003 05:04 am (UTC)
Re: Alias Grace
I'll have to pick up Alias Grace at some point then. I've not gone back to reading Margaret Atwood since it was so hard to get the The Handmaid's Tale. But it was very good.

Thanks for posting the review.
Feb. 16th, 2003 09:02 am (UTC)
Woooo, another Atwood fan, how nice!

I loved both Alias Grace and Robber Bride, as well as Handmaid's Tale, of course. Personally, of all the Atwood books I've read, I believe that I found Cats Eye the most brutal, because to me it seemed like the most realistic of her books.

Have you heard of The Dive from Clausen's Pier? If not, you might enjoy it. It's written from the perspective of a woman whose long-term boyfriend/fiance breaks his neck just before she was thinking of breaking up with him. It has some very interesting things to say about the nature of love and responsibility, I thought.

And yes, I am bored and sick and reading your old journal entries :)

Feb. 16th, 2003 09:24 am (UTC)
Re: Atwood
Thanks for the book recommendation! I'll definitely have a look at it when I'm reading more again. (I'm frustratingly limited in attention span right now, so I haven't bee able to read much, which is driving me crazy!)

And feel free to read any journal entries you want to. I'm flattered! :)
Feb. 16th, 2003 11:00 am (UTC)
Re: Atwood
Thank you :) I really enjoy your writing style and openness, and your journal is one of the best I have come across.

I know what you mean about short attention spans - that's one reason why I've spent the day reading your journal, which can be consumed in small bits, instead of my new book. Darn this cold!
Feb. 16th, 2003 11:32 am (UTC)
Re: Atwood
Yeah, that's why I seem to be able to write in a journal, but can't seem to write fiction right now ... and seem to be able to read other folks' journals, but have trouble with books. My attention span has been crap since this depression really kicked into gear.

Ironically, my attention span sucks *both* when I'm depressed *and* when I'm hyper. Bleh!

Anyway, welcome to my journal, and please feel free to comment any time. I always welcome other folks' thoughts.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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