This book has been getting a lot of buzz in the past year from Canadian book reviewers, mostly for the style of writing. I will agree that Wayne Grady has written this book in a rhythmic way that evokes the jazz music that appears throughout the story. The music is not the driving force as it is in Half Blood Blues however, but rather belongs in the background, providing ambiance music to set the scene. As much as I enjoyed Grady’s writing, for me the story was about 60% there.
Essentially Grady is telling the story of Jack, an African American boy who is born with white skin. He grows up in Windsor Ontario during the 30s and 40s before the outbreak of the Second World War. During the war, while stationed in Newfoundland Jack meets Vivian and marries her but tries to keep his family a secret. Things get complicated however when the pair travel to Windsor to meet his family and Vivian finds out she is expecting a child.
It’s a good story, but I feel like it either should have been a lot longer, or much shorter focusing in on Jack’s refusal to acknowledge, and even hatred of, his own race. There is so much interesting emotional stuff to dissect with his character which wasn’t really done. There is no real climax or conclusion to the novel, and the characters do not really develop. I still liked the book but I’m not so sure if it deserves all the immense praise it has received.
I have previous stated elsewhere that I only enjoy Margaret Atwood’s dystopian futures. Alias Grace is not a dystopian future, but is historical fiction, which is my favourite genre. While it took me a while to get into the story, Atwood likes to switch between the perspective of a doctor and the perspective of Grace herself which makes the story feel disjointed at times, I fell into its pace quickly.
Alias Grace, is Atwood’s take on the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. While I had originally anticipated the book to be Atwood’s reconstruction of the events, the story was much more. The novel is not an attempt to blame Grace Marks for the murders, nor is it an attempt to dissolve her from guilt. It took me a while to realize what Atwood was trying to do, but from my point of view she was trying to show the how Grace Marks was viewed at the time, especially through the eyes of a (fictional) doctor conducting research into criminal behavior, and the media. Atwood also writes from Grace’s point of view regarding events leading up to the murders and after her conviction but when written from Grace’s point of view, the reader is not sure if Grace is speaking or thinking, thus if the events are true, making this read even more intriguing.
There is no question that Atwood is a wonderful story teller and she spins the story of Grace Marks in such a twisted and interesting way. While Grace is the main character in the story, the reader never gets a true grasp on who she really is. Even through her own perspective, Grace’s character seems to shift into all the different roles ascribed to her, a murderess, a seducer, an innocent servant tricked by a jealous farmhand. Just as historically no one was sure if Grace Marks was guilty or not, the reader is left similarly wondering the same thing.