Firstly, this is a longer book - around 600 pages - than I generally have time to read for the book club but as The Handmaid’s Tale is so well known I persevered, having bought my own copy.
Alias Grace is a story based on a real murder case. Grace Marks was found guilty with a fellow servant of a double homicide in the 1800s in Canada. The hook of the book is that her imprisonment allows a doctor in the early days of psychiatry to interview her over several sessions to try and work out just how guilty she was.
The novel moves around from an impoverished childhood in Ireland to a voyage to Canada to becoming a servant girl with a talent for sewing in a big house. Poached to a smaller house because the pay is better, Grace meets the people who will either murder or be murdered in the near future.
This is more of a did she do it and searching for motives for the events which happen.
Because it’s a real case, it’s difficult to know how much is conjecture and how much is fact until the end where Atwood gives her sources in the acknowledgements. It’s a puzzling case but the novel tells us much about the lives of little working class children whose parents live in squalor and drink. Canada, in winter, doesn’t seem like something I would have liked to experience at that time.
There are various epigraphs from writers well known to American readers, William Morris and Emily Dickinson for example, scattered throughout the novel which mostly serve to tell the reader how important it is for women to tell their own story.
The recurring themes are power, class, truth, madness, gender, sexuality, justice, religion and memory. No wonder the book is so long.
Alias Grace has also been turned into a television series so I would like to watch that to see if it fits with my vision of events.
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