Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Out of the gravel there are peonies growing.

– Opening sentence

Alias Grace was the chosen title for my work’s book club. The only other Atwood title I have read is The Handmaid’s Tale, so I had high expectations for Alias Grace.

And it didn’t disappoint. Based on the true historic crime of the murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in 1843, Atwood brings to life the story of Grace Marks and James McDermott. Both were convicted for the murders, with James McDermott being hanged and Grace Marks sentenced to live imprisonment.

Atwood writes in the afterward and acknowledgements that she included as much factual content as available to her, adding that little is truly “known” about the details of the case due to the various inaccuracies in both Grace Marks and James McDermett’s confessions, sensationalised news coverage, and contradictory observations from witnesses, doctors and others who wrote about the case.

The book is narrated by a few different characters, namely Grace Marks and Dr. Simon Jordan – a psychiatrist who conducts a series of interviews with Grace in an attempt to determine whether or not she truly played a part in the murders, or – as she claims – was unwittingly dragged into a nightmare by James McDermott.

I initially liked the character of Dr. Jordan, and regarded him as an open-minded character who would treat Grace Marks, who at the point of meeting her is serving life imprisonment, with respect and kindness.

Which he does do, but as the plot progresses it becomes clear that Dr. Jordan isn’t the knight in shining armour he is initially made out to be. His passing comments and experiences of women show that he objectifies them, and is guilty of using them for his own satisfaction.

Grace Marks is weary of this, though. She is used to people exploiting and using her, and is guarded against everyone she comes in contact with. I mean, who can blame her after what she’s been through? But we also realise that she is clever, and knows how and when to withhold and share information. This cunning makes the reader question whether or not she is innocent, and we are never given a satisfactory answer.

I never really considered myself a huge fan of historical fiction before, but I find that I am enjoying the genre more and more as I discover books like this (historical fiction fans, please hit me up with some recommendations in the comments!).

Fans of true crime would also enjoy Alias Grace, and I would highly recommend it.

And so we will all be together.

– Final sentence

4 Stars (4 / 5)

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