The pattern of this quilt is called the Tree of Paradise, and whoever named that pattern said better than she knew, as the Bible does not say Trees. It says there were two different trees, the Tree of life and the Tree of Knowledge; but I believe there was only the one, and that the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Good and Evil were the same. And if you ate of it you would die, but if you didn’t eat of it you would die also; although if you did eat of it, you would be less bone-ignorant by the time you got around to your death. Such an arrangement would appear to be more the way life is. -From Alias Grace, page 459-
In the year 1843, at the tender age of sixteen, Grace Marks was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her role in the slaying of her employer Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Mongomery (Kinnear’s mistress and housekeeper). The case garnered excessive interest in Canada (where the crimes occurred) due to Marks’ uncommon beauty, her young age and the juicy combination of sex, violence and what was considered ‘the insubordination of the lower class.’
Margaret Atwood has taken this moment in history and created a novel both compelling and fascinating. Told alternately from the point of view of Grace and Dr. Simon Jordan – a doctor who is eager to uncover Grace’s lost memories of the murders and determine her guilt or innocence – the story gradually reveals Grace’s secrets and her complex personality.
Alias Grace is constructed with an eye to detail and contains beautiful symbolism and exquisite imagery. Atwood’s use of quilt patterns both as titles for the chapters as well as clues to the mystery is brilliant. As quilts are layered and stitched together, the stitcher gradually reveals the pattern hidden in the fabric…just as Grace Marks re-constructs her life and the events surrounding that fateful day. Nothing is as it seems. For every character there is a dark side and a light side; good vs. evil; innocence vs. guilt. And even Grace tells us: ‘…and that is the same with all quilts, you can see them two different ways, by looking at the dark pieces, or else the light.’
Margaret Atwood once again demonstrates her ability to create memorable characters and weave a story which enthralls.