Every Sunday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQ+ women and women of different religions.
Murderess, murderess, he whispers to himself. It has an allure, a scent almost. Hothouse gardenias. Lurid, but also furtive. He imagines himself breathing it as he draws Grace towards him, pressing his mouth against her. Murderess. He applies it to her throat like a brand.Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
November is Margaret Atwood Reading Month (aka #MARM) hosted by Naomi at Consumed by Ink and Marcie at Buried in Print. For the whole month of November they are committing themselves to reading Atwood in all of her glorious forms – her fiction, her poetry and her essays. Although I don’t have my book collection with me in Malé (and I know, buried somewhere, are a few unread Atwoods on my shelves), I will post a couple of recommendations throughout this month.
First up is a novel I read relatively recently (before the Netflix series came out last year). Alias Grace, published in 1996, is based on the true story of a salacious and shocking murder in 19th-century Canada. Margaret Atwood’s Booker prize-winning novel gives a voice to ‘one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s’. Apparently the result of a long-term fascination with Grace Marks, which started when she first read Susan Moody’s skewed account of the murders in Life in the Clearings, Atwood seeks to give a more fulfilling account of Grace Marks’ life whilst simultaneously opening up a wealth of questions and considerations. Nothing is ever clear-cut or straightforward and, whether or not Marks was a vengeful murderer or an accessory to a horrendous crime, the truth is secondary. What is important in Alias Grace is the need to bring to life – and give a voice to – a woman whose identity has been chosen for her by others.
Atwood is attempting to give back this control to Grace Marks. To give her a chance to tell the infamous story of her life in her own words, to fashion an image which is not exaggerated or blown out of proportion by the media or second-hand accounts. There is no revelatory climax. Atwood makes us crucially aware that we don’t have all the facts and we never can. But in writing Alias Grace she gives agency back to a woman who was silenced and whose story was appropriated to fit a certain mould at a certain time in history.
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer, poet and essayist. She has published numerous novels which have also been adapted for the TV. Her novel, Alias Grace, was the winner of the Giller Prize in 1996 and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction.