by Margaret Atwood
*** About the Book ***
The facts: In a small town near Toronto in 1843, two people are murdered. Two other people are accused and stand trial. One is convicted of murder and hanged. The other is convicted as an accessory and sentenced to life in prison, despite her claim that she remembers nothing of the day in question. That person is 16 year old Grace Marks. For the next 30 years she is kept in prison, with occasional visits to the insane asylum. Then she is released and there are no further records of her life.
The book: Atwood takes the few facts of the case that are available and fleshes out a story explaining one possible way that Grace ended up accused of murder. She creates a fictional doctor who visits Grace in an attempt to reconstruct her memories of the murder. Did she do it? If so, was she the mastermind or an unwilling victim? Was she in her right mind or was she insane? This book presents some possible answers but leaves much to the interpretation of the reader.
*** Why I Read It ***
This is my book club’s pick for February. I’d heard great things about it so even though it isn’t one I would have ever chosen to read on my own, I was excited to read it.
*** My Thoughts ***
Wow, Margaret Atwood can WRITE! Regardless of my thoughts on the story itself I have to admire her for the beauty and flow of her writing.
That said, I did really like this book. I was afraid that it would be too graphic (I really don’t enjoy reading about murders) but it was not at all; the book was less about what actually happened to the murder victims and more about what Grace remembers about all of it.
I loved the period detail included in the book: the current state of medical thought including the emerging field of psychoanalysis, the state of the prison system, political unrest in Canada (about which I was completely ignorant), the daily functioning of a household and it’s servants, and so on. There was just so much here!
There are still things that I don’t understand about parts of the story, and of course there are many unanswered questions simply because the true facts are unknown. But I think this book will be an excellent one to discuss with my club and I’m very glad that I read it.
And I have to say that it was a bit odd doing two Atwood books in the same month (I reviewed the other book yesterday) ... I'm still not sure how I feel about that. I'm finding myself comparing them too often, so I don't think I'd do two such different books by the same author so close to each other again.
*** Your Thoughts ***
Have you read this book? Or any others by Atwood? Do you like books that fictionalize true history?