Finished: May 23, 2008
First Published: 1996
Genre: historical fiction
Reason for Reading: chunkster challenge. GRTB pick
Out of the gravel there are peonies growing.
Comments: This fictionalized account is based on the true story of 16 year old Grace Marks who was accused and found guilty of accessory to the murders of her master and his mistress, the housekeeper, in 1840s Toronto, Canada. As the book starts Grace is in prison and is waiting to be seen by a doctor who has obtained permission to study her. He is not the usual type of doctor but rather a doctor of the mind.
The narrative of the book switches from the 1st person of Grace to the third person narrative of the doctor and between these narratives are letters between the characters, excerpts from contemporary papers and poetry. The switching views and narratives keeps the reading moving. I particularly enjoy this type of back and forth narrative. Atwood has done a splendid job of filling in the spaces and presenting a perfectly plausible story of what really may have happened.
I really enjoyed the book. The themes are among my favourite topics, Victorian era prisons, asylums, a madwoman, a sensational murder case, and these all make for interesting reading. The character of Grace is fully realized and we care what has happened to her and will become of her but we never really know whether she is guilty, innocent or insane. Atwood's books often give off literary airs but sometimes I think they are just great genre fiction and this one is a magnificent historical fiction. Great book!