In the interest of disclosure, I have to say that I have never read a Margaret Atwood book that I didn’t like. There were some that disturbed me, made me think, made me wish such things didn’t exist to be written about, but I have always been glad for the experience. Part of her charm is that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get next when you pick up a Margaret Atwood novel. Yes, she has themes that she likes to return to, but there’s always something new to look forward to as well.
Alias Grace: A Novel is a different approach for Margaret Atwood, and managed to surprise me yet again. This book is an unusual layering of true crime, focusing on the acts of Grace Marks, who was convicted of killing her employer and suspected of killing his housekeeper as well in 1843, in addition to a fictional story based on the story as it’s known now. Atwood skillfully weaves the two together so that you get the pacing of a modern true crime novel without ever losing the essence of the era in which all this occurred. The answer as to whether or not Grace Marks was a skillful murderess or an innocent dupe is never given, and eventually the novel ends with Grace being released from prison and disappearing in upstate New York.
I found this book both satisfying and not satisfying. It was satisfying in that it addressed a subject of interest in an unusual way, and made you feel the characters as they went through their moves in this drama. The unsatisfying part is that no one really knows if Grace Marks truly was a “celebrated murderess” or if she was just a 15-year old girl with the cards stacked against her from the beginning.