In the 1840s, Grace Marks was convicted of murdering her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper/mistress, Nancy Montgomery. Though she escaped capital punishment (unlike her co-defendant, James McDermott, who was hanged for the crime), she faced a rather lengthy prison sentence. A group of well-meaning individuals who believe she is not guilty by reason of insanity, employs an American psychiatrist to try to determine whether or not she is in fact insane. The psychiatrist, Dr. Simon Jordan, begins interviewing Grace to try to determine what she remembers about the murders. As Grace tells Dr. Jordan the story of her life, he begins to get the sense that there is something she is not telling him. And as he becomes more immersed in her world, he finds his own beginning to change.
Finishing Alias Grace was something of a major accomplishment for me. I purchased it and began reading it in 2003, and only got 40 or 50 pages in before shelving it for five years. I picked it up again earlier this fall and kind of meandered my way through it. Overall, it was a very good story. The characters were so good, and I really felt like I was getting to know all of them. But I was a little frustrated with it because I wanted some kind of definitive answer as to what really happened. Obviously, as a novelist, Ms. Atwood doesn’t have to answer that question, and I think it would be difficult to make any kind of real determination as to what happened. But a part of me really wishes we knew definitively exactly what Grace’s role was.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book. Any problems I had with it were more my own issues rather than any faults of the book.