So, before diving into my opinion on this book, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that the author can be problematic (this Roots article – linked to in a recent Pajiba Love – is a fabulous read if you want to delve further into past & current issues with Margaret Atwood).
I enjoyed reading this book. Atwood is a master world builder. I loved the intricate detail that takes you deep inside this world. I also liked the ambiguity … based on a true story, we can’t really know if Grace committed murder or not (it’s almost a similar feel to the podcast Serial). I liked wavering between Grace as a victim of her circumstances (poverty, gender, etc.) and Grace as a master manipulator. I am glad that the novel did not definitively answer who Grace is or tie the story up into a tidy bow at the end (with all the reader’s answers neatly answered by the author).
I also appreciated delving into issues surrounding gender, madness, crime, & punishment from a historical perspective while simultaneously recognizing how these issues still resonate today. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between women & madness in literature and media (probably because of my own history with depression). This quote really sums up where I am now in that journey – “…the older I get, the more I see how women are described as having gone mad, when what they’ve actually become is knowledgeable and powerful and fucking furious.” But, I continue to be drawn to the long history of how our mental health as women is weaponized against us &/or used to control us. Was Grace a victim of madness or hysteria or the mental health institutions of her time? Or did she “play crazy” to essentially get away with murder? And in this moment, of #MeToo & #TimesUp, should we believe & listen to the victim, Grace (assuming Grace is the victim in this story? Is she?) Or is Grace such an unreliable narrator that we cannot trust her?
My gut instinct is to stand with Grace and to hear her story as she tells it (or in this case, as Atwood tells it). And even if she did manipulate the various systems that she was caught within (poverty, gender, psychiatric wards, prisons), to her limited advantage, good for her!