In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood uses the framework of a historical murder to dig into the things that most interest her. Grace Marks, at the age of sixteen, has been convicted of the brutal murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear and his mistress, Nancy Chambers. Now, after some years in both prisons and asylums, Dr. Simon Jordan has arrived to hear her story and use his knowledge of the infant science of psychology to discover the truth of the events that occurred. I found this book really gripping; Atwood is a marvelously talented prose stylist and as she flips viewpoints between Grace and Simon, she’s able to differentiate the two characters astonishingly well and it is the warring viewpoints of those two characters that really drive the book. There’s intrigue to the plot, of course, as Grace slowly spins out the story of her life and what brought her, at the tender age of sixteen, to the shockingly violent murders that have defined her life. But the characterizations are also just flawlessly done. And this is a book that I think would continue to unfold on multiple readings. I didn’t go back through and read it a second time, but I did kind of flip back through and I just found so much symbolism and so many intriguing clues. It’s an absolutely masterful work of art and a novel that has stuck with me in a really powerful way. It’s a book that’s a bit of a blind; it’s so entertaining on the surface that you don’t realize just how deep it really is until you’re in over your head. Get to swimming. Alias Grace is worth it. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – historical novel uses real murders to explore issues of identity, gender & repression; both entertaining and incredibly deep. A masterwork by any reasonable measure. 4 stars.