In 1843, Grace Marks was tried for the murders of her employer Thomas Kinnear, and his mistress Nancy Montgomery. James McDermot, also a servant in the house at the time, was tried and hanged. Grace was sentanced to life in prison. Little is actually known about her life, and the two accused gave 5 different stories during the trial. Using material from the time - newspaper reports, observations, Doctor's letters etc, Margaret Atwood has pieced together a story. Where the events are unknown, she has used her imagination. The book is consequentally half way between history and fiction.
The book follows Grace from the brutality of her childhood as an Irish immigrant to Canada, through her years as a servant, and the loss of a close friend. Her life in a mental insitution and in prison is dealt with in less detail, but there is enough to give a distinct impression. Grace's tale is cut with extracts from the life of a fictional Doctor involved with her case - the moral dilemas of his existence provide an intersting counterpoint to the main tale.
This report prepared by Bryn Pearson