Well, well. In comparison to last month’s complete DUD of a book (seriously, don’t read The Road to Oxiana – it’s time you’ll never get back) book club’s benevelont dictator was rather looking forward to this month’s conversation. And we weren’t disappointed. One of the best book club sessions we’ve had in a while. Go team!
This month, the group read Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. While we do have a strong core of Atwood groupies, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the general love there was for this book. It stormed to the top of “Lausanne Book Club’s best-of” chart with a staggering 8.5/10, knocking poor old George Orwell down into 2nd place.
Generally, the comments on the book were incredibly positive (as you’d expect with the score). Readers loved the “patchwork” of stories and how the narrative was stitched together. Some felt that the changes in point of view was…er… on point. There was an air of mystery around the book and, despite some of the characters having major flaws, the group felt Atwood had written them to be hated. Her experimentation with technique was lauded as was the complexity of the tale. Some of the group admitted to having a little crisis when they realised that they couldn’t really trust any of the narrative… but we’ll get onto that later.
As there were 12 of us, it seemed only right that we act as judge and jury for poor Grace. If she’d been tried in 2017 at a busy bar in Lausanne, she may have had better fortune with only 3 of the group believing she was guilty.
The biggest revelation of the night came from May.
Do you think Mary actually existed? No one ever seems to speak to Mary apart from Grace. I think Grace invented Mary because she needed her. Everything that happened to Mary actually happened to Grace and she needed a way to disassociate herself from it. Could that be the reason the book is called Alias Grace? Grace is the persona that hides Mary from the outside world.
There was quite a lot of conversation around Dr Jordan and how creepy he was. Any man who looks at people and considers what they’d be like as prostitutes probably has some issues that they need to work through. Personally, I was torn between how Jordan looked.
Just for my own pleasure, I’m erring the side of devilishly handsome (albeit with some…peccadillos). Some of the group questioned what exactly happened to Jordan during the civil war. Atwood was frustratingly (or purposefully?) vague simply mentioned that he had a head injury. It was suggested that the head injury happened before the war actually started.
The group explored why Jordan was so obsessed with mental health (while, at the same time, applauding Atwood for tackling the tough issues). Some felt it was just a sign of the times with the general population being fascinated with the topic. Others felt it was an opportunity for Jordan to have control over people – having been controlled so much by his mother for most of his life.
The murder arc in Alais Grace takes part over the course of two heady weeks of summer (imagine having to write the obligatory “What I did over my summer holiday” essay that year). We discussed whether this was realistic (no firm conclusion) and what the hell was going on with McDermott (was he gay? Was he messed up in the war? Did he just suffer from a case of the dickheadedness disease?)
There was a little chatter about quilting (you can read a little history about quilting here) and, once again, I think it May who proposed that quilting was a way of Grace to take control. When discussed the Tree of Paradise quilt Grace mentions at the end of the book we realised that she changes the traditional form of the quilt and amends it to suit herself. Through the quilt, she hides who she really is – only she will know that there are snakes hiding in the quilt. Deep. (You can buy your own Tree of Paradise quilt from a real life Armish woman here)
Random phrases of the meeting. A couple:
- Old people having sex stinky (ed: I
hope am sure this isn’t the case)
- The colour of salami is so disgusting (ed: I think this is a reference to Jilly Cooper?)
- Women are always expected to provide
A great meeting this month. Here’s to another one similar next month please!