Ms. Hen decided to read this because she likes Margaret Atwood, and she had heard of the Netflix show, and was curious about the book. She checked it out of the library, and even though it was a hardcover, she read it nonstop for a week, and did not do anything else with her spare time. Ms. Hen thought it was that good.
ALIAS GRACE is historical fiction about a young Irish woman living in Canada, Grace Marks, who is in prison for murdering her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and the housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. She was convicted along with her fellow servant James McDermott, who has been hung for the crime, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison. The novel centers around Dr. Simon Jordan interviewing Grace, trying to discover if she is innocent because she cannot remember what happened during the time of the murders. Dr. Jordan is a doctor of the mind, and he has traveled to Europe to visit lunatic asylums there, in hopes of starting a quality one in the United States, where he is from.
Grace never has any good luck. Her father is a drunk and beats her mother, and does not work. He is English, and in Ireland, he gets in trouble for associating with Orangemen. The family emigrates to Canada, and the mother dies on the way. Grace has to do all the work of taking care of the family, and her father sends her out to get a job in service. Grace makes a friend, Mary Whitney, whom she shares a bed in the house where they both are servants. She is employed at lots of other houses until she ends up at the Kinnear residence in the countryside. Nancy hires her because she cannot do all the work alone.
Grace doesn’t know what is happening in the house, until James McDermott tells her that Nancy is Mr. Kinnear's mistress. Grace thinks Nancy is strange, because she is friendly one moment, and nasty the next. Grace doesn’t like working at the house. Grace tells Dr. Jordan all about her life, up until the times of the murders. She thinks that he will help her get out of jail. She doesn’t know what has happened to her family or the people she has known. Dr. Dupont, who is in disguise, and is someone Grace has known previously, hypnotizes Grace, and she becomes possessed, or so it seems. Dr. Jordan is upset that the people in the audience want him to write about the hypnosis, but he doesn’t want to do so because he thinks it would make him a laughingstock in the medical profession.
Ms. Hen thinks this is one of the best books she has read in while. She has read some great books lately, but this is one of her favorites this year. She thinks that ALIAS GRACE is historical fiction about how terrible it is to be a woman, and THE HANDMAID’S TALE is futuristic fiction about how terrible it is to be a woman, so they are variations on the same theme. Grace feels threatened by men; she cannot go anywhere or do anything without the fear of men. Her friend Mary Whitney tells her she should not go to the privy (outhouse) by herself at night alone, because something could happen to her. That is what women had to deal with in the early nineteenth century, and the problems continue today, but in different ways.
Even though this novel is tragic, Ms. Hen was happy that it is full of hens and chickens. One significant scene in which chickens played part is when Nancy tells Grace to kill a chicken for dinner, and Grace can’t bring herself to do so, “I went to the henyard and caught a plump young fowl, a white one, crying all the time, and tucked it securely in my arm, and went towards the woodpile and the chopping block, wiping my tears with my apron; for I did not see how I could do such a thing.” Jamie Walsh comes along and kills the chicken for Grace. Grace is delicate and can’t handle killing a chicken, but she changes and becomes a different person when she helps McDermott kill Nancy.
Ms. Hen cannot begin to describe how much she loved this book. She thinks she feels this way because she understands the character, someone who is trapped, and does not have any choice about the course of her life. But Grace lived her life, and she dealt with her troubles. This novel is based on actual events, and Ms. Hen shudders when she thinks that these things could have happened to someone. The world is a difficult place for women, and always has been.