This post is the second of two for the Alias Grace read along at Bookish Habits. You can read part one here.
The novel took an interesting turn after we left off last time. I won't call it unexpected - in fact, I did indeed expect the revelation that was made when Grace was hypnotized from the moment she reported having heard Mary Whitney's voice say "Let me in" just after she died. It also confirmed the sense that I had all along that Grace was "guilty as sin" in the words of her former lawyer and, at the same time, completely innocent. Though Grace never admits to having done any of the things she was convicted of, there is always something missing from her story, which she acknowledges - convenient blackouts during which, it seems, she was not inactive. But you can't help trusting her - when she says she can't remember having done something, you believe that she can't remember it, that she was never consciously aware of it, even if her body did perform those actions. Just because the capacity for those actions exists inside her, does that define who she is? If she didn't consciously perform those actions, are they hers to own? At one point, Grace says, "having a thought is not the same as doing it. If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged" (317). There are element of both guilt and innocence in us all; it's the actions we take that determine which applies.
It's a very forgiving interpretation. I get the sense that Atwood really took the historical Grace Marks' story to heart, took the person to heart and, perhaps somewhat indulgently, found a way to vindicate her. It is, perhaps, a little convenient, wrapping up loose ends much too neatly, and really makes one wonder about the decision to finally release Grace. There again, her happy ending is a little unnatural - is life really so tidy? So unlikely? Perhaps the point of the ending is that it only has the illusion of happiness, for Grace really doesn't have any choice in the matter. She has nowhere to go except where she's sent and nothing to live on except what she's given, leaving her at the mercy of yet another man. Innocence, guilt, happiness - perhaps these are all illusions and at their core is something darker and more complex.
I really appreciated the Afterword in which Atwood briefly summarized what is known about the historical Grace Marks so that the reader can sort out what is "true" and what is "fiction" (are these illusions as well?). It seems that Atwood did a nice job filling in the gaps and bringing and brought a story wanting in detail back to life.
Overall, I wouldn't say that it's my favorite Atwood novel, but it certainly engaged me and made me want to keep reading. Perhaps it would have been slightly more effective for me if Atwood had allowed the story to be just a little messier, a little more like life.