- Publisher: Virago Press Ltd
- Format: Paperback | 560 pages
- Dimensions: 125mm x 197mm x 36mm | 442g
- Publication date: 1 September 1997
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 1860492592
- ISBN 13: 9781860492594
- Illustrations note: ports.
- Sales rank: 7,245
Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor.' Grace Marks. Female fiend? Femme fatale? Or weak and unwilling victim? Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery.
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Margaret Atwood is Canada's most eminent novelist and poet. She has won many awards including the SUNDAY TIMES Author of the Year Award and she has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times.
A sensuous, perplexing book, at once sinister and dignified, grubby and gorgeous, panoramic yet specific...I don't think I have ever been so thrilled...This, surely is as far as a novel can go Julie Myerson, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY Brilliant...Atwood's prose is searching. So intimate it seems to be written on the skin Hilary Mantel Margaret Atwood is to be congratulated Anita Brookner, SPECTATOR The outstanding novelist of our age Peter Kemp, SUNDAY TIMES
A fascinating elaboration - and somewhat of a departure for Atwood (The Robber Bride, 1993, etc.) - of the life of Grace Marks, one of Canada's more infamous killers. As notorious as our own Lizzy Borden, Grace Marks was barely 16 when she and James McDermott were arrested in 1843 for the brutal murder of their employer Thomas Kinnear and his pregnant mistress/housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. The trial was a titillating sensation; McDermott was hanged, and Grace was given the dubious mercy of life imprisonment. Some felt her an innocent dupe, others thought her a cold-blooded murderer; the truth remains elusive. Atwood reimagines Grace's story, and with delicate skill all but replaces history with her chronicle of events. Anchoring the narrative is the arrival of Dr. Simon Jordan, who has come to investigate the sanity of Grace after some 16 years of incarceration. A convert to the new field of psychiatry, Jordan is hoping to help Grace recover her memory of the murders, which she claims no recollection of. He begins by asking for her life story. Grace tells him of her first commission as a laundry maid in a grand house, and of her dear friend Mary, dead at 16 from a botched abortion. On she goes until she calmly relates the events that led up to the murders, and her attempted escape with McDermott afterward. Hypnotism finally `restores` her memory (or is Grace misleading Jordan?), with results that are both shocking and ambiguous. Employing a variety of narratives - Grace's own, Dr. Jordan's, letters, newspaper accounts from the time, poems from the period, and the published confessions of the accused - a complex story is pieced together. The image of the patchwork quilt, used repeatedly in the novel, is a fitting metaphor for the multiplicity of truths that Grace exemplifies. Through characteristically elegant prose and a mix of narrative techniques, Atwood not only crafts an eerie, unsettling tale of murder and obsession, but also a stunning portrait of the lives of women in another time. (Kirkus Reviews)