This is my next must read book for the summer, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. The blurb on the back of the book says the following:
'Sometimes I whisper it over to myself; Murderess.Murderess. It rustles like a taffeta skirt along the floor.'
Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extrodinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery.
"Brilliant...Atwood's prose is searching. So intimate it seems to be written on the skin." - Hilary Mantel Literary Review
I read the opening excerpt last academic year and was hooked, vowing that I would invest time reading it, especially when sometimes I have to read around a subject in class. It appears to be a good compare/contrast piece of work. Plus, to my absolute glee, Atwood appears to be the mistress of the dystopian novel, so I will probably add Oryx and Crake to my collection. Below is an excerpt from the novel - I especially love the Peonies/Blood metaphor.
Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood
Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, their buds testing the air like snails’ eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.
In the one instant before they come apart they are like the peonies in the front garden at Mrs. Kinnear’s that first day, only those were white. Nancy was cutting them. She wore a pale dress with pink rosebuds and a triple-flounced skirt, and a straw bonnet that hid her face. She carried a flat basket, to put the flowers in; she bent from the hips like a lady, holding her waist straight. When she heard us and turned to look, she put her hand up to her throat as if startled.
I tuck my head down while I walk, keeping step with the rest, eyes lowered, silently two by two around the yard, inside the square made by the high stone walls. My hands are clasped in front of me; they’re chapped, the knuckles reddened. I can’t remember a time when they were not like that. The toes of my shoes go in and out under the hem of my skirt, blue and white, blue and white, crunching on the pathway. These shoes fit me better than any I’ve ever had before.
It’s 1851. I’ll be twenty-four years old next birthday. I’ve been shut up in here since the age of sixteen. I’m a model prisoner, and give no trouble. That’s what the Governor’s wife says, I have overheard her saying it. I’m skilled at overhearing. If I am good enough and quiet enough, perhaps after all they will let me go; but it’s not easy being quiet and good, it’s like hanging onto the edge of a bridge when you’ve already fallen over; you don’t seem to be moving, just dangling there and yet it is taking all your strength.
I watch the peonies out of the corner of my eyes. I know they shouldn’t be here: it’s April and peonies don’t bloom in April. There are three more now, right in front of me, growing out of the path itself. Furtively I reach out my hand to touch one. It has a dry feel and I realise it’s made of cloth.
Then up ahead I see Nancy, on her knees, with her hair fallen over and blood running down into her eyes. Around her neck is a white cotton kerchief printed with blue flowers, love-in-a-mist, it’s mine. She’s lifting up her face, she is holding out her hands to me for mercy; in her ears are the little gold earrings I used to envy, but I no longer begrudge them. Nancy can keep them, because this time it will all be different, this time I will run to help, I will lift her up and wipe away the blood with my skirt, I will tear a bandage from my petticoat and none of it will have happened. Mr Kinnear will come home in the afternoon, he will ride up the driveway, and McDermott will take the horse, and Mr Kinnear will go into the parlour, and I will make him some coffee, and Nancy will take it in to him on a tray the way she likes to do, and he will say What good coffee; and at night the fireflies will come out in the orchard, and there will be music, by lamplight. Jamie Walsh. The boy with the flute.
I am almost up to Nancy, to where she’s kneeling. But I do not break step, I do not run, I keep on walking two by two; and then Nancy smiles, only the mouth, her eyes are hidden by the blood and hair and then she scatters into patches of colour, a drift of red cloth petals across the stones.
I put my hands over my eyes because it’s dark suddenly, and a man is standing there with a candle, blocking the stairs that go up; and the cellar walls are all around me, and I know that I will never get out.
This is what I told Dr Jordan, when we came to that part of the story.