Fiction — print. Anchor Books, 1997. Originally published 1996. 468 pgs. Received from PaperBackSwap.
Based on a real Canadian murder (allegedly) committed by Grace Marks in 1843, Atwood’s novel examines the murders in a fictional manner and explores the burgeoning field of mental illness during that time. The last couple of books I’ve read have been pretty bad, and I’m so glad that I decided to start Atwood’s novel because it’s just fantastic.
Overall, the novel is very well-written with descriptions that enhance rather than bog-down the tale. I thought for sure based on the size of this novel that it would drag on, but the only reason it took me so long to read was because I was forced to keep putting the novel down.
“In fact I have no idea of what kind of a sunrise there was. In prison they make the windows high up, so you cannot climb out of them I suppose, but also so you cannot see out of them either, or at least not onto the outside world. They do not want you looking out, they do not want you thinking the word out, they do not want you looking at the horizon and thinking you might someday drop below it yourself, like the sail of a ship departing or a horse and rider vanishing down a far hillside. And so this morning I saw only the usual form of light, a light without shape, coming in through the high-up and dirty gray windows, as if cast by no sun and no moon and no lamp or candle. Just a swathe of daylight the same all the way through, like lard.” (pg. 237)
While the real mystery is supposed to be whether or not Grace killed her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress, but the character and motives of Dr. Simon Jordan, the up-and-coming expert in mental illness, are also a mystery to the reader. The interactions between the two continued to pull me through the novel; I wanted to learn more about both characters.
The ending for Dr. Jordan ending being a bit of a cop-out, and that did detract from my overall experience with the novel. And, without giving it away, I’m still now sure if Grace is guilty or not. However, I still really enjoyed reading Atwood’s novel and now cannot wait to read more of the prolific writer’s works.