by Margaret Atwood
Grace Marks was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery in 1834. Due to the impassioned pleas of her lawyer and the conflicted public sentiment towards her, she was not sentenced to death, but rather life in prison. She gave at least three conflicting descriptions of the murders and no one ever knew whether she had masterminded the terrible events, particpiated actively in them, or was merely a victim of circumstances browbeat by her accomplice. Alias Grace is the fictional account, by acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood, of one (fictional) man’s attempt to discover whether Grace Marks is insane, innocent, or supremely cunning.
This was a fascinating book that I enjoyed reading. I appreciated that it was based on real events, and Atwood found ways to share daily historical details that enhanced the story. Despite my enjoyment, I did wish that the book was shorter. There were long portions of the book that I wondered why they were even included. Perhaps Atwood wanted to create a full family background to explain her confusing main character? Or was she merely throwing red herrings in the path of the reader, and confusing us by the wealth of details? Nonetheless, I was surprised and frustrated that two thirds of the book passed before details of the murder where even shared.
I did not empathize fully with any of the characters. In particular, I found Grace Marks to be entirely too untrustworthy as a narrator to believe anything she shared. There were also times when she seemed like nothing more than a mouthpiece for Atwood. Her sophisticated reasoning and way of speaking seemed out of character for someone with a limited background such as hers in the era in which she lived.
Although the main conflict was whether or not Grace Marks was guilty, I did not have much doubt as to its conclusion. However, the way in which Atwood resolved it was surprising and not very convincing. Marks was sentenced to life in prison rather than death because popular opinion was divided about her role in the murders of Kinnear and Montgomery. However, I believe women are as human and culpable as men. True, each person is a product of the social and economic forces pushing and pulling upon their individual personality and intellect. Nonetheless, women are as capable of violence and evil as men are.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoy historical fiction. This would also appeal to those who like reading about true crime. Atwood’s graceful and effortless prose would appeal to literary readers as well.