I included Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood in my Classics Club book list as a bit of a cheat since I’m working my way through her books anyway, but thought I might as well tick another book off my list.
Alias Grace is unlike any of the stories I’ve already read by this author. Several have been dystopian, while another two were so real I suspect they were based on the author’s own life experiences. Alias Grace is a fictional account of an actual woman who was convicted of two murders in Canada in 1843. The known facts of the case were used by the author to anchor her fictional story.
Grace Marks was a servant at a remote farm when she and James McDermott were found guilty of murdering their employer, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Grace was only 16 years old at the time of the murders. The pair were caught soon after fleeing to the USA and returned to Canada to face trail for the crimes. McDermott was hanged and Grace was sentenced to life in prison.
When the story began, Grace had been a prisoner for many years. By day, she worked as a servant in the prison Governor’s home, returning each night to the prison. The Governor’s wife and her guests were fascinated by Grace, and were alternately thrilled or horrified by having her in their midst. Grace’s beauty and self-possession added to their intrigue.
A doctor researching criminal behaviour came to Canada specifically to interview Grace. He sat with Grace in the Governor’s home as she sewed and tried unsuccessfully for some time to prompt her to talk about the actual murders, which she told him she had forgotten about. Eventually the doctor asked Grace to tell him about her childhood, which she did, starting with her abusive, drunkard father, her constantly pregnant mother and their battle with poverty and too many children. Grace told him her of her mother’s death on the ship to America from Ireland, how she became a servant and eventually lost touch with her father, younger brothers and sisters as she moved from situation to situation.
The doctor’s own somewhat messy personal life also became part of the story. Newspaper accounts of the crime, letters between the characters and poems were also used to tell the story.
Grace is a fascinating character and this is an intriguing story, which has left me with plenty of things to think about.
Alias Grace was book twelve in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2013.
If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.
Alias Grace is broken up into chapters named for quilts, such as Ducks and Geese and Pandora’s Box, with pictures of the quilt patterns. I particularly enjoyed making the connection between the contents of each chapter and the name of the quilt patterns.