Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor. In 1843, a 16-year-old Canadian housemaid named Grace Marks was tried for the murder of her employer and his mistress. The sensationalistic trial made headlines throughout the world, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Yet opinion ...
Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor. In 1843, a 16-year-old Canadian housemaid named Grace Marks was tried for the murder of her employer and his mistress. The sensationalistic trial made headlines throughout the world, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Yet opinion remained fiercely divided about Marks - was she a spurned woman who had taken out her rage on two innocent victims, or was she an unwilling victim herself, caught up in a crime she was too young to understand? Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood reconstructs Marks's story in fictional form. Her portraits of nineteenth-century prison and asylum life are chilling in their detail. The author also introduces Dr. Simon Jordan, who listens to the prisoner's tale with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. In his effort to uncover the truth, Jordan uses the tools of the then rudimentary science of psychology. Dr. Simon Jordan is 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? But the last word belongs to the book's narrator - Grace herself.
?Alias Grace is a work of fiction, although it is based on reality. Its central figure, Grace Marks, was one of the most notorious Canadian women of the 1840s, having been convicted of murder at the age of sixteen.?
Grace is one of nine children born into poverty in the north of Ireland. Her father was a violent hard drinking Englishman who attempted to look for work but never found any at the bottom of a beer glass.
In 1840 the family sail to Canada to hopefully begin a new life courtesy of Grace?s uncle who happily pays to remove the family out of his home. Canada in the 1840s had a population of only some two million but this was growing due mostly to emigration especially from Ireland. The family arrive in Toronto and manage to find rooms. Grace?s father makes little or no attempt to find work and eventually Grace leaves to work as a servant for a wealthy family.
She finds a good friend in Mary Whitney, a servant girl in the same household and later when Grace is fleeing the scene of the murders she uses her friend?s name as an alias.
Grace drifts from job to job and eventually finds work some miles outside of the city of Toronto for a gentleman by the name of Thomas Kinnear the man she will later be accused of having murdered.
The story starts with Grace relating her story from prison. Most of her story is being told to a young doctor, Simon Jordan, who is looking to unlock Grace?s memory as she cannot recall any details of the killing of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery.
The novel can be read as a straight-forward narrative about the tale of a poor Irish family who emigrate to Canada where life does not get any easier and circumstances result in Grace Marks being accused of two murders: a tale of sex, murder and mystery. Reading it at that level the novel is a likeable, well crafted story that will not disappoint.
However, this is a novel by Margaret Atwood writer of such books as ?The Handmaids Tale and ?The Blind Assassin? and so Alias Grace has depth and intelligence seeping out of every page. The story is as well crafted as a piece of scrimshaw and the words seem carved on Grace?s very bones. Atwood?s novel is at once delicate and brutal, fatalistic and optimistic and elicits a feeling of having read the mind of a genius.
The novel?s tapestry is woven with the skill of Clotho and while reading one wonders which thread Atropos in the guise of Margaret Atwood will cut next. The story is believable, honest and with elements of social commentary that make one weep when realising that not enough has changed in the past 150 years where women and children are still too often determined as no more than chattels as they were in the nineteenth century.
Though the novel has a dystopian feel, within its pages there is a semblance of hope. As Margaret Atwood herself said, ?In every dystopia there is a utopia.?
Originally posted at http://womensprizeforfictionbookreview.wordpress.com/
Apr 4, 2010
Inside the mind of a maybe murderess
Margaret Atwood's novel "Alias Grace" is both a spell-binding psychological page-turner, and a probing social commentary on the relationship between men and women, scientists and their subjects of study, men and women, and haves and have-nots. Many different people with many different agendas try to fit "notorious murderess" Grace Marks into a neat box, and find themselves stymied.
Despite the slow, almost languid pace of the narrative, I found myself taken in by Grace's narration of day-to-day life as a maid, then as a prisoner. Due to the basis for this novel being historical events, I knew that story would not have some sort of big reveal as to whether Grace was guilty or not, but that didn't stop me from turning the conundrum over and over in my mind. "Alias Grace" is a novel that stimulates thought, whether it be about how certain views of women have changed (or stayed the same), or about the nature of memory and insanity. This was one of Atwood's more captivating works, and I may return to it again someday.
Jul 17, 2007
HAUNTING STORY BASED ON A REAL LIFE MURDER CASE. DID SHE OR DIDN'T SHE-THAT IS THE QUESTION POSED BY THIS MASTER WORK BY A GREAT AUTHOR. THIS IS ALSO THE QUESTION THAT WILL KEEP YOU TURNING PAGES FAR INTO THE NIGHT.
May 17, 2007
Excellent Historical Fiction
Based primarily on a true 1800's double murder this novel is a close look at the murderess, Grace. Sometimes told by Grace and sometimes told by a psychologist trying to determine the truth of the case, it leads to a grand overall story.
The question of Did she do it or was she duped makes for a page turner. It is a rather frank book about life for a young woman in a time where showing ankles was provocative, and there were few options for the "weaker" sex.
Publishers Weekly, 1996-10-07 Intrigued by contemporary reports of a sensational murder trial in 1843 Canada, Atwood has drawn a compelling portrait of what might have been. Her protagonist, the real life Grace Marks, is an enigma. Convicted at age 16 of the murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper and lover, Nancy Montgomery, Grace escaped the gallows when her sentence was commuted to life in prison, but she also spent some years in an insane asylum after an emotional breakdown. Because she gave three different accounts of the killings, and because she was accused of being the sole perpetrator by the man who was hanged for the crime, Grace's life and mind are fertile territory for Atwood. Adapting her style to the period she describes, she has written a typical Victorian novel, leisurely in exposition, copiously detailed and crowded with subtly drawn characters who speak the embroidered, pietistic language of the time. She has created a probing psychological portrait of a working-class woman victimized by society because of her poverty, and victimized again by the judicial and prison systems. The narrative gains texture and tension from the dynamic between Grace and an interlocutor, earnest young bachelor Dr. Simon Jordan, who is investigating the causes of lunacy with plans to establish his own, more enlightened institution. Jordan is hoping to awaken Grace's suppressed memories of the day of the murder, but Grace, though uneducated, is far wilier than Jordan, whom she tells only what she wishes to confess. He, on the other hand, is handicapped by his compassion, which makes him the victim of the wiles of other women, tooæhis passionate, desperate landlady, and the virginal but predatory daughter of the prison governor. These encounters give Atwood the chance to describe the war between the sexes with her usual wit. Although the narrative holds several big surprises, the central questionæWas Grace dupe and victim or seductress and instigator of the bloody crime?æis left tantalizingly ambiguous. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Dec.)
Publishers Weekly, 1997-09-29 In Atwood's latest, the notorious 19th-century murderess Grace Marks tells her story in a Toronto asylum. (Nov.)
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