This is the fictionalized account of a true story.
Grace Marks, a poor, Irish immigrant housekeeper, has been convicted of killing her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper and mistress, Nancy Montgomery, along with the stable hand, McDermott.
The stable hand is hung for his role in the murder, but, Grace, who cannot remember the murders themselves, is sentenced to life in prison.
A group of people, who believe Grace is innocent and that the murders were committed solely by McDermott.
In an attempt to prove their case, they bring in Dr. Simon Jordan, someone they consider knowledgeable in the new field of mental illness, to help prove that Grace is not guilty of this crime.
Grace has been granted privileges that most prisoners do not receive. She works in the Governor’s wife home as a member of the staff during the day (her expert sewing skills have made her the seamstress for the home) and is returned to the prison every evening to sleep.
Each day, he sits with Grace as she tells him her life story. But, Grace does not know the full reason Dr. Jordan is there and has faced may disappointments in the past when others have tried to have her conviction overturned. The one piece of good fortune she did get was that her sentence was commuted from hanging to life in prison.
Grace’s life is told to us in a chronological fashion, each day, Dr. Jordan hopes that by letting her go at her own pace through her life story, she will be able to remember the day her employer and his housekeeper/mistress were murdered. And that the memory of the events will not have a detrimental effect on Grace.
In the meantime, Dr. Jordan’s work on this case, is having significant effects on the course of his life.
This was a very poignant story about what it was like to be the member of a household staff as well as an immigrant from a poor family with an abusive father. It also reflects what few choices Grace, as a woman, had to make a better life for herself. Along the way, there were people who intervened at appropriate times to help improve her lot in life and there were those who intervened and what they offered ended up costing her.
I couldn't even get into this book. After the few few pages, I gave up.
This is very different from other Atwood books I've read. It's a historical mystery rather than a future world. There are some interesting points made about a woman's situation if they were working-class in the late 1800s, but while the plot was entertaining, the basis of it was not. At the end, I felt letdown by an Atwood book for the first time.