Alias Grace takes a number of things I love – Margaret Atwood, history, and true crime – and makes a truly fantastic book that is as deeply interesting as it is hard to put down.
Grace Marks was convicted, alongside fellow servant James McDermott, of the murder of their employer Thomas Kinnear and his mistress and housekeeper, Nancy. Convicted due to circumstantial evidence, some believe that Grace is evil personified, while others believe her to be another innocent victim of the case. Trying to get to the bottom of things is Dr Simon Jordan, a man whose interests lie in mental health and the treatment of those suffering from mental illnesses. On behalf of those who’d like to see Grace pardoned, Dr Jordan tries to entice the terrible tale from Grace, while expecting the case to result in advancements to his own career. Grace is a great storyteller, albeit one who is either holding something back or fudging some facts, and whether or not the tale she tells is true is left to the reader to discern.
Atwood writes so incredibly that the Kinnear house and its inhabitants soon felt like intimate acquaintances, while even the supporting characters are fully realised with lives of their own, and I can still see the both the Kinnear house and Grace’s cell in my mind nearly three weeks after finishing. It’s taken until now to review as, unfortunately, on the day I finished the book, what I’ve since been calling Vomitageddon started (courtesy of a very rare condition that caused me to vomit every few minutes for 10 days straight). It’s a testament to Atwood’s writing power that I can still clearly remember all of the details and imagery from the book, and even separate them from the various hallucinations I suffered during my illness.
I’ve now seen that a TV adaptation is almost upon us, courtesy of Sarah Polley. It’s going to have a hard job living up to the standard of this book, but I can’t wait to devour it whole.