Thursday, August 20, 2009

202. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood

History: Published in 1996, the novel is based on factual events.
Plot: Sixteen years have passed since Grace was locked up, at the age of sixteen, for the cold-blooded murder of her employer, Mr Thomas Kinncar and his housekeeper/lover, Nancy Montgomery. Her alleged accomplice in the crimes, James McDermot, paid the extreme sentence of the law and was hanged on November 21, 1843. But some thought Grace was innocent, and her sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment.
After a spell in the lunatic asylum, it has been decided that she is neither mad nor dangerous, although she now claims to have no memory of the murders. Dr Simon Jordon is one of the up-and-coming young men of his day in the field of mental health and is an expert on amnesia. He listens intently to Grace's account of her family's passage from Ireland to Canada during which her mother died and was buried among the icebergs, and to the tale of her time in the service with Mary Whitney, whose disgraceful death was hushed up in the servants' quarters. It is his professional objective to wake the part of Grace's mind which lies dormant. We learn of her wretched childhood and her emigration from Ireland, of her employment at the age of thirteen, her several jobs, the last one of which leads to her being implicated in the murders and thus to her prolonged incarceration in both asylum and penitentiary. But it is ultimately the reader, rather than Dr Jordan, who discovers Grace’s story. In the end, it is decided that Grace actually did commit the murders.
Review: There's nothing like the spectacle of female villainy brought to justice to revive the ancient, tired, apparently endless debate over whether women are by nature saintly or demonic. Unleashed by ghastly visions of the angel of the house clutching a knife or pistol, a swarm of Furies rises shrieking from our collective unconscious, along with a flock of martyrs. Meanwhile, our vengeful passions or pious sympathies are never so aroused as when the depraved criminal or unjustly slandered innocent happens to be touchingly young and attractive.
Opening Line: “Out of grace there are peonies growing.”
Closing Line: “And so we will all be together.”
Quotes: “I am not lying” says the voice. “I am beyond lying! I no longer need to lie.”
Rating: Good, but a confusing ending.

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