Review: Alias Grace
In Alias Grace, bestselling author Margaret Atwood has written her most captivating, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying work since The Handmaid's Tale. She takes us back in time and into the life of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century.
Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.
Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?
Let me start with how I got to know Margaret Atwood. A friend of mine introduced me to her books, as a result I have enjoyed a few of her work, and most are novels with different ideas to what we know. I therefore was thrilled to re-discover that I had a copy of Alias Grace lurking around on my computer, and decided I should give it a shot. I didn’t read the synopsis on Goodreads about this book (like I do with most books I’ve read) and therefore didn’t know quite what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised on how much this book just fitted me!
So the story is based on the true story of Grace Marks, who was accused of assisting to murder her employer, Mr Kinnear. The story was widely publicised in the papers of 1843 in Canada and was seen as one of the worst crimes for Canada at the time.
Atwood doesn’t tell us whether Grace is really guilty or innocent, but the story she gives us on Grace is truly beautiful and a great read.
She takes us back to Grace’s background, where she was born in Ireland and how she, along with her parents and siblings, came to Canada. Grace tells this story to Dr Jorden, who is there to evaluate her in prison to appeal to her release. Dr Jorden tries to understand why Grace might have done it, and why, as she says, she can’t remember half of it.
Her story, as mentioned, starts in Ireland where she lives with her parents and her siblings. Her father decides to go to Canada to make a better life for them. Her mother unfortunately dies on the boat to Canada and Grace is left in a strange country with her drunkard father and siblings. It’s then that she starts as a servant and ends up in a well to do house along with a few other servants. The one, Mary Witney, becomes a beloved friend to Grace. But Grace’s life seems not destined for happiness and Mary dies in the room that the two girls share. Some things (that I’ll better leave unspoken because I wouldn’t want to spoil it) happen and change everything.
Grace then heads to work for Mr Kinnear, but the current servant, Nancy Montgomery, seems to be harbouring a little secret. Grace is the house servant, and James McDermott the yard servant. She doesn’t like him much and he scares her a little, but there’s nothing she can do about it. It’s here that the murders take place along with James McDermott, her co-accused, who hanged for the crimes
Grace relays this all to Dr Jordan (whom is also living his life and provides some antics in the book). He still cannot decide whether she’s guilty or not, he seems to like her a lot and cannot imagine why she would ever do anything of this nature. The mystery does slowly unfold and you get a glimpse of what had happened, but whether it’s true or not, only you will be able to tell (when you read it).
Atwood really has a great way of writing, and that’s what initially attracted me to the book. But the story was amazing, and I love any kind of mystery or story revolving around crime (as my friends would know). So if you’re into that kind of stuff, pull this book out of the shelf and read it! The book also features some true articles that where published during the trials and time of the murders which make for some exciting reading.