Alias Grace

Margaret Atwood

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.

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