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Old 11-16-2018, 02:43 PM   #16
Catlady
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I am just starting the book now; it's been very hectic here because of a sick cat (why do my kitties' ailments always seem to be mysterious ones requiring expensive diagnostics?) and a work deadline.
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Old 11-16-2018, 02:48 PM   #17
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I have started and stopped and started it again. I doubt I will finish it but I will try to have some thoughts later today or this weekend.
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Old 11-16-2018, 07:27 PM   #18
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In some respects I found the richest ground of this book to be in the fiction, partly - I think - because the non-fiction was all so familiar/typical, and as issybird observed "Atwood patronizes us here".


I rather liked the character of Jeremiah the peddler aka Dr Jerome DuPont. He offered up strange sorts of outside possibilities (especially as regards his mesmerism etc.). [Spoiler added given how many have not finished:]
Spoiler:
I was rather disappointed that it was not he that whisked Grace away at the end. After all, he did tell Grace she was "one of us", whatever that was supposed to mean.



Mrs Humphrey (Rachel) was pitiable, and gave good grounds for really disliking Dr Jordan:
Quote:
Her other game is that she is trapped, at the mercy of his will
as if that was a game! She was at the mercy of his will. But I found I had to temper my dislike with the understanding he could (and in reality rather than fiction probably would) have treated her much worse than he did. He was a weak and unthinking fool rather than malicious.


Dr Simon Jordan I found to be something of a mishmash. Could he really be such a gullible fool as regards how he is manipulated by Grace? Or was it that he fell in love with Grace and so became foolish? Or is it just that he is young, spoilt, selfish and essentially uncaring of anyone else around him that makes him this foolish? And yet his travels and studies should have made him more worldly, I would have thought, and his ambitions to open an asylum seem larger than the man we meet in the story. Dr Jordan as a character seemed a bit all over the place to me.
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Old 11-16-2018, 07:32 PM   #19
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I am just starting the book now; it's been very hectic here because of a sick cat (why do my kitties' ailments always seem to be mysterious ones requiring expensive diagnostics?) and a work deadline.
The answer is of course Murphy's Law. I hope Kitty is feeling better soon.
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Old 11-17-2018, 08:17 PM   #20
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I agree, gmw - Jeremiah was an interesting character and he clearly had a bit of a sixth sense, saying to Grace "I don't like the feel of things" and wanting her to leave the Kinnear household and travel with him. You can see why setting up as a medical clairvoyant, trading in Mesmerism and Magnetism would have suited him down to the ground. Atwood suggests that things got out of his control when Grace was hypnotised.

Did you find that section of the book persuasive? I thought it quite a neat explanation of how things had happened, as I mentioned above.
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Old 11-18-2018, 01:55 AM   #21
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I have started and stopped and started it again. I doubt I will finish it but I will try to have some thoughts later today or this weekend.
I think I'm in the same place, Dazrin. I've started it 3 times now. Part of the problem is with the pressure at work, I'm falling back on old favourites, and I have no interest in being challenged or forced to push through something. But I'll keep trying.
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Old 11-18-2018, 02:50 AM   #22
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It seems only three or four of us have got through it!

Some of the themes of the book seem to be the attitudes of society in Victorian times (and I assume it is appropriate to use that term for Canada as part of what was then the British Empire) to gender, criminality and sanity. I suppose class and nationality should be added in there, given the references to both Grace and James McDermott being Irish servants.

Is there somewhere that we can go with these themes while we wait for others to join in?

From the little I have read, it seems that opportunities for women were as limited in other countries. Housewives, domestic servants, farm labourers, prostitutes and nuns seem to be the only roles available. Education was of course minimal. So Grace's opportunities to improve her lot in life were very limited and the opportunities for being exploited sexually or financially were many and varied. She should have taken up the offer of the entrepreneurial Jeremiah!
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Old 11-18-2018, 03:33 AM   #23
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@Bookpossum. Full marks for trying to get some discussion going. Everything you say about the various themes is true. But personally I think that they have been so done to death that I am totally bored with most of them. Their relevance must surely lie in what lessons they have for today. And the themes in this book seem to have only marginal relevance. They are useful as a reminder of how much progress we have made, as well as a warning of what can happen again, and indeed continues to happen in much of our modern world.

Combined with the style in which much of the book is written, I have little difficulty in believing that some of us may well not finish their reading.
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Old 11-18-2018, 08:55 AM   #24
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I agree, gmw - Jeremiah was an interesting character and he clearly had a bit of a sixth sense, saying to Grace "I don't like the feel of things" and wanting her to leave the Kinnear household and travel with him. You can see why setting up as a medical clairvoyant, trading in Mesmerism and Magnetism would have suited him down to the ground. Atwood suggests that things got out of his control when Grace was hypnotised.

Did you find that section of the book persuasive? I thought it quite a neat explanation of how things had happened, as I mentioned above.
I was a bit disappointed that the author didn't to more with Jeremiah/DuPont, but perhaps he served his main purpose by muddying the waters...

I thought the Mary Whitney alter ego theory existed strongly before this scene with Jeremiah/DuPont (in the book, rather than the minds of the characters in the book, if you see my distinction); Atwood had been giving us quite a few hints in that direction from the earliest chapters. So I wasn't surprised by what was revealed under hypnosis, if anything it seemed overkill. I was thinking that having Jeremiah do the hypnotism weakened the theory (if a con-artist set it up then it was probably a con). And then Dr Jordan seems firmly convinced that DuPont was surprised by what came out, but can we believe that? As you noted earlier, this book fits the unreliable narrator very well, and not just for Grace - I wouldn't trust Dr Jordan's assessment of anything much.

So I've come away from it thinking that Atwood built the theory and then did almost everything she could to make it ambiguous - and that was the primary role for Jeremiah/DuPont. In a pure fiction story I'd have said it was a waste of a good character, in this ... I still thought it was a waste of a good character.
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Old 11-18-2018, 09:17 AM   #25
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It seems only three or four of us have got through it!

Some of the themes of the book seem to be the attitudes of society in Victorian times (and I assume it is appropriate to use that term for Canada as part of what was then the British Empire) to gender, criminality and sanity. I suppose class and nationality should be added in there, given the references to both Grace and James McDermott being Irish servants.

Is there somewhere that we can go with these themes while we wait for others to join in?

From the little I have read, it seems that opportunities for women were as limited in other countries. Housewives, domestic servants, farm labourers, prostitutes and nuns seem to be the only roles available. Education was of course minimal. So Grace's opportunities to improve her lot in life were very limited and the opportunities for being exploited sexually or financially were many and varied. She should have taken up the offer of the entrepreneurial Jeremiah!
It seems fairly well established that these discussion threads may contain spoilers and, anyway, once you get to page 90 or so (ch12) you have most of the story already. Earlier I dropped a detail concerning the ending into spoiler tags because, being entirely fiction, it offers the one little bit of of surprise that exists in the book.

To my way of thinking, a theme is something the author adds or emphasises in their work. So some of your suggested themes I would describe merely as setting rather than theme. You can't write about servants and prisons in Victorian times without getting grisly, they weren't good times to be at the bottom of the heap. I'm inclined to think that Atwood gave us a fairly clean and pleasant ride, considering the possibilities - or maybe things were easier in Canada.

Casting around for things that weren't setting, the biggest item (for me) is Grace and the question of her identity. The obvious question of whether she was actively and consciously involved in the murders (is she a murderess or not) evolves into a bigger question of labels and identity.

Grace observes at one point that "it is more important to be a murderess than the one murdered," because she is still being discussed but Mr Kinnear is fading from memory, even her own. She is self-identifying as a murderess, but I don't get the impression this is a confession, it is more a sort of acceptance of the label she has been given; she is a murderess whether she did the deed or not.

Grace, in herself, seems to have evolved a malleable identity, but something she is aware of: "I could see that she felt some tears were in order, and I shed several." and "It calls for a different arrangement of the face; but I suppose it will become easier in time." Again, it didn't feel to me like these were deceptions as much as they were conscious adaptations she knew she had to make. She still kept her own sense of what was right and wrong, but within that she would consciously adapt to her circumstances.

Self-awareness seems to be one of Grace's particular strengths, and it is this that gives her the advantage over the young and naive Dr Jordan.

Dr Jordan might be said to have a malleable sense of self as well, but this seems to be one of weakness - responding to stronger characters, or situation, around him. "All of this will be a compromise. But he has now - very abruptly it seems - reached the right age for it." It's not abrupt, he's been compromising all the way through, but unlike Grace he seems unaware of his choices and what they say about him.

Last edited by gmw; 11-18-2018 at 09:20 AM.
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Old 11-18-2018, 05:22 PM   #26
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Grace observes at one point that "it is more important to be a murderess than the one murdered," because she is still being discussed but Mr Kinnear is fading from memory, even her own. She is self-identifying as a murderess, but I don't get the impression this is a confession, it is more a sort of acceptance of the label she has been given; she is a murderess whether she did the deed or not.

Grace, in herself, seems to have evolved a malleable identity, but something she is aware of: "I could see that she felt some tears were in order, and I shed several." and "It calls for a different arrangement of the face; but I suppose it will become easier in time." Again, it didn't feel to me like these were deceptions as much as they were conscious adaptations she knew she had to make. She still kept her own sense of what was right and wrong, but within that she would consciously adapt to her circumstances.

Self-awareness seems to be one of Grace's particular strengths, and it is this that gives her the advantage over the young and naive Dr Jordan.
Yes, Grace seems almost disconnected from any spontaneous feelings, but produces what others expect. Given her life, I suppose that is hardly suprising - whether guilty or innocent, she would have had to be detached in order not to be crushed by the conditions and feelings of utter despair.

Spoiler:
One moment of genuine feeling was when she received the pardon, and her fear about how she would live. In a way, it was comparable to a nun leaving a convent after many years, and not knowing how to cope with the world.

The tidy, almost "happily ever after" ending seemed too neat to me. If her psyche was indeed so disturbed, would she really have been all right? Perhaps the final line: "And so we will all be together." suggests a healing of sorts - or perhaps not.
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Old 11-18-2018, 07:46 PM   #27
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Yes, Grace seems almost disconnected from any spontaneous feelings, but produces what others expect. Given her life, I suppose that is hardly suprising - whether guilty or innocent, she would have had to be detached in order not to be crushed by the conditions and feelings of utter despair.

Spoiler:
One moment of genuine feeling was when she received the pardon, and her fear about how she would live. In a way, it was comparable to a nun leaving a convent after many years, and not knowing how to cope with the world. Or worse.

The tidy, almost "happily ever after" ending seemed too neat to me. If her psyche was indeed so disturbed, would she really have been all right? Perhaps the final line: "And so we will all be together." suggests a healing of sorts - or perhaps not.
I agree that the detachment would be self-defence. (Is this where the "hysterics" in the asylums of the times came from? It's not just Grace that faced hardships and was expected to bear up. Perhaps after holding back for years some people just can't hold it any longer.)

And we get the whole story told to us by this disconnected Grace. Is it any wonder the recital becomes dry and sleep inducing?

And I also agree about the ending.
Spoiler:
The Stephen King novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, does an effective job of describing how inmates become institutionalised - even to the extent of committing new crimes so as to be returned to the life they know.

On one level Grace appears to skip a lot of that, but then she has been being brought out of prison to interact with non-prisoners at the Governor's home, so this may have protected from the effect - to some extent.

When they first spoke of Grace going to New York I assumed New York City, and could imagine this would be a huge change for Grace and very difficult to adapt to. Then realising they meant a rural setting it seemed an ideal solution for her, with the possible downside of reminding her of Richmond Hill. Finding out that Jamie Walsh was rescuing her, and was apparently not at all concerned about marrying a murderess ... it felt like too much to credit.

As regards a disturbed psyche, that is one of the downsides of Atwood's suggestion of an alter ego. Other than not revealing any new occurrences of "Mary" coming to the fore (but then Grace never remembers those anyway), the recital offers no suggestion of healing. So "Mary" might still be there waiting to come out. Does that shine a slightly different light on "And so we will all be together." ? Maybe blending them into part of the pattern is a euphemism for blending Nancy in with Grace and Mary. Fanciful, but not much more so than carrying Mary as an alter ego.
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Old 11-19-2018, 12:52 AM   #28
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Ok, I haven't had a chance to refine this at all but here are some of my initial thoughts. First off, great book for the "unreliable narrator" theme and I can see this being someone's favorite. Unfortunately, this is totally not my style. I tried (multiple times) to get into this book but I just haven't been able to and I think it's time for me to call it quits.

The first few chapters were too disjointed for me. Bouncing between different points of view and not quite following a consistent timeline.

After that it seemed to settle into the Grace / Dr. Jordan alternating views. I did enjoy Grace't internal narrative and her perspective. Some of her thoughts were wonderfully said:
"I like the clock best of anything in the parlour, although it measure time and I have too much of that on my hands already."
"Whe I first saw it I was surprised, because they say Celebrated Singer and Celebrated Poetess and Celebrated Spiritualist and Celbrated Actress, but what is there to celebrate about murder?"

On the other hand, I hated his internal narrative. He came across as a shallow fraud. His thoughts about the maid at his boarding house were downright awful, and about the lady of the house too. He didn't get much better at the dinner party either.
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Old 11-19-2018, 05:34 PM   #29
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Dr Jordan was in many ways shallow and unlikeable. Mind you, having a mother who goes in for emotional blackmail in every letter she writes to him wouldn't help his relationships with other women I suspect. Mama and her chosen daughter-in-law Faith Cartwright got the better of him in the end.

I found the whole side story of Dr Jordan to be an intrusion, as I really wasn't interested in him, where I was interested in Grace. If she was just playing a part, she clearly did it remarkably well and for a long period of time.
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Old 11-20-2018, 01:10 AM   #30
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I found the whole side story of Dr Jordan to be an intrusion, as I really wasn't interested in him, where I was interested in Grace. If she was just playing a part, she clearly did it remarkably well and for a long period of time.
That's interesting. I couldn't agree more. I found myself reading right along when it's Grace, and finding excuses to do something else when Dr. Jordan is the subject. I think, ultimately, that he's really why I've had such a hard time with this book.
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