Books for fans of Alias Grace
Margaret Atwood based her 1996 novel on the Canadian true-crime story of Grace Marks, an Irish housemaid who, along with a male servant, was accused of killing her master and his housekeeper in 1843. The facts of the case are murky, and the extent of Grace's involvement especially so, but while the man accused was hanged, Grace was sentenced to life imprisonment; a sentence begun in an asylum before her transfer to a prison, where she served almost thirty years before being pardoned and released.
Atwood uses the facts of the case to explore themes of identity, gender, power, and the exploited vulnerabilities of women, servants, and immigrants, inventing a doctor-character who interviews Grace about her experiences and her loss of memory, convinced she is an innocent hysteric rather than a hardened criminal.
Whether "ripped from the archives," or purely fabricated, novels about women who murder, or are accused of murder, are not uncommon, particularly those with a feminist angle, where frustrations born of gender or class inequalities are used to mitigate crimes or make these women more sympathetic to a modern reader. Nothing better than a badass girl except a badass girl with a good reason.
So, since you've already read Alias Grace (and you HAVE, right?), here are some other books with women who kill (oooor dooooo theeeey?), or novels filling in the gaps of fascinating historical incidents.
This novel is based upon the life and crimes of the last person to be executed in Iceland, a sympathetic housemaid named Agnes who, in 1829, along with two others, was convicted of - and beheaded for - murdering two men, one of them her former employer. While awaiting execution, she was kept at the home of a local farmer and his family, where she shares her story with the family's women and a young assistant priest.
1 / 11
Another Canadian woman writing a historical novel inspired by true events. Set in 19th century Quebec, a respected woman reflects on the grand passion of her youth; the lover who murdered her abusive husband before fleeing to America. Now, as her second husband lies on his deathbed, she is sleep-deprived and past-haunted, resulting in a stream-of-consciousness whirlwind of guilt and memories with a touch of madness.
2 / 11
This novel was inspired by the true-crime case of Amanda Knox, reimagined as a 21-year-old girl named Lily who goes to Buenos Aires for a semester abroad and becomes the prime suspect when her roommate is brutally murdered.Told through multiple perspectives, the question of Lily's guilt or innocence becomes a pinball-puzzle of fact and speculation, misunderstandings and lies, posturing and psychological manipulation.
3 / 11
Survival story meets historical mystery novel after a harrowing escape from a sinking ship in 1914 strands 39 people in an overcrowded lifeboat for three weeks, but there will be fewer than that when they are eventually rescued. The unsinkable Grace Winter survives only to stand trial for murder, along with two of the other survivors, and during her testimony she proves to be the most deliciously unreliable narrator.
4 / 11
Historical, check. Canadian author and setting, check. Featuring a murderess, check. But in this novel, there's no question that the 19-year-old Mary murdered her husband following the death of her infant son, and now she is on the run in her mourning dress, half-mad with grief, pursued by her deceased husband's gun-toting twin brothers through the Canadian wilderness in the early 1900’s.
5 / 11
Like AG, this invokes the injustices of gender and class that might drive a woman to murder, adding a racial factor. 60-year-old Mary-Mathilda was born a slave on a Caribbean sugar plantation and given to its white master as a girl to serve as his mistress and bear his son, enduring his advances until the night she kills him and calls the police, unburdening herself of her life's story and the island's dark history.
6 / 11
In the 19th century on the poverty-stricken Aegean island of Skiathos, unmarried women could not work and were burdens to their families, struggling to amass dowries just to get rid of these daughters. An old woman, an herbalist and healer, holds her sickly granddaughter and imagines the child’s likely future of servitude and hardship, arriving at a chilling solution to limiting female suffering in the name of mercy.
7 / 11
Similar in intent to AG, this takes a historical episode shrouded in mystery and speculates about what really happened. In 1830, the English evangelist John Wroe, believed to be a prophet, told his followers that God instructed him to take 7 virgins into his home and was given their unmarriageable daughters. Rumors of indecency eventually arose, but little documentation exists, so Rogers imagines their story for us.
8 / 11
Post-WWI England: a delicate time in the battle of the sexes. Soldiers came back from the war changed by all they’d seen and done; angry, wounded, damaged. Meanwhile, women reluctantly relinquished the freedoms they'd enjoyed while the men were away, when they’d been employed and purposeful, their behavior less-scrutinized. To this atmospheric powderkeg, add the passions and secrets of two women and one man. Ka-boom.
9 / 11
Life in the Clearings versus the Bush (New Canadian Library (Paperback)) by Susanna Moodie (2010-08-03)
This is the book in which Atwood first encountered the story of Grace Marks, inspiring her to write both her novel and a poetry cycle titled The Journals of Susanna Moodie, so you might as well discover it for yourself, even though Atwood’s subsequent research into the case revealed that Moodie had taken some liberties with the story, making a lot of it up, which Atwood discusses in Alias Grace’s afterword.
10 / 11
Alias Grace will come to Netflix on November 3, which gives you plenty of time to read most of the books on this list.
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