Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

#89 in my book challenge for the year was Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. It would be easy to review the book in a word: wow. As regular readers might know, though, I am not prone to under-writing. Alias Grace was recommended to me years ago by a trusted friend, and has sat accusingly on my bookshelf since. I found its size daunting, which made it all the more ironic when I read the first hundred pages, stopped to read another book for a deadline, then picked up Alias Grace again, and re-read those hundred pages again just because I could, because I wanted to, because they were that good. I flew through the rest of the book, so rapt with the story that I gave scant attention to the awe-inspiring mastery of Atwood’s prose.

What amused and sometimes discouraged me most read was how Atwood brazenly flouted conventional wisdom on how to write a novel. Phrases from writing instructors echoed in my head: don’t switch verb tense; don’t vary point of view; be wary of flashbacks and dreams. Atwood did all these and more. She is writing proof that rules are meant to be broken by those who can, and a novel need not be experimental and weird to break the rules. Alias Grace is a tremendous story written with astonishing skill, with Atwood’s trademark ambiguities that give so much credit to the reader for interpretation.

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