For an author known to upend the conventional to suit her purpose, Margaret Atwood missed the mark with Alias Grace. History called the shots in this one, and perhaps such a restraint proved too large a hurdle.
Alias Grace · Margaret Atwood · 1996
Emblem, 2014 · 567 pages, paperback
The 1843 murder of the gentleman Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper mistress Nancy Montgomery is lifted from the historical record, along with the characters of Grace Marks, the titular murderess, and James McDermott, her alleged co-conspirator.
Ripe and festering with a young girl’s maligned reputation, shifting identities, lunacy and crime, the Kinnear-Montgomery double murder should have been putty in the hands of Atwood, normally a convincing author as well as temptress to the imagination and one who has tricks for curling the corners of her sentences into sly little images…but putty it proved not to be. Continue reading
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell feels like the best of British literature, combining Sherlock Holmes eccentricity with the warm/cool, fast/slow, fun/grim adventure of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and then dropping in a bit of Wilkie Collins’ gothic ambiguity. In short, Susanna Clarke’s novel is a fantasy that has in it a lot more than a wonderful story.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell · Susanna Clarke · 2004
Bloomsbury, 2017 · 1006 pages, paperback
Magic has gone out of England. Magicians as they are now are just ordinary men with their noses in books and whose tongues form words of speculation instead of incantation. Magic isn’t something that is done – oh no, not anymore – magic is something to be theorized, opined about, written down in lines of rhetoric…magic in this age, the Age of Napoleon, is only an armchair philosophy. Enter stuffy Mr. Norrel, recluse of Hurtfew Abbey, practical magician.
Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White hinges on identity, forgery and rank suspicion, suspicion that gets the better of us and makes us rash instead of rational.
The Woman in White · Wilkie Collins · 1860
Penguin, 2009 · 672 pages, hardcover
The Woman in White is both a sensationalist thriller and a social commentary. Collins takes his shots at the marriage laws and rules of inheritance of 1850s England, and he provides a creeping horror alongside it, the same kind of horror where you realize how very trapped you are and how powerless you are to get out. A close marriage, the words invalid and invalidate.
That pernicious horror doesn’t confine itself to money, nor even to love, but asserts itself as an erasure of recognition, and this erasure necessitates a different kind of forgery – that of reclamation and the forging of a new life.