The book tries to figure out if Grace was guilty or not.A question that is important to justice - for isnt true justice served only when the guilty or punished or should i say when the innocent are not? The question of guilt however, is not that important from a story telling perspective. Like the varying perspectives on Grace's quilt, being the judgmental creatures we all are, I am sure that every reader of the story had a pronounced view in mind seen from the fragments we decided to relate to. Grace tries to tell Jordan, the psychiatrist evaluating her guilt and trying to make her remember the day when the murders were commited what he wants to hear. By saying this, she makes the reader wonder if she is at all stating the truth ever. Her story at the same time seems too elaborate to be a lie. I was conflicted for quite a while on what to believe. I would not share what i surmised for i want anyone reading the book to be able to make that judgement. :)
The beauty of the book is not the pronouncement of the guilt but the view it provides of a century and a place where women were seen as the weaker creatures who were often betrayed by the men whose mercy they were under. Throw in the class and economic disparities in such an era, the notoriety of the crime and the youth of those involved especially Grace and you have a book which will appeal to different groups of people. The characterization is beautiful and a definite strong point in the book. Grace is the one who i loved, hated, mocked and the others were not as interesting to me.
Atwood has appealed to me partly because of the fact that she has very strong female characters. By having a very weak strong one, she had me hooked. Where Atwood's strength lies is in the fictional narration and the really honest attempt at not pronouncing a judgement. The various themes she explores around feminism, repression, dependency, individuality and of course class are all controversial and it is refreshing to see someone convey such a beautiful story with such difficult themes.
The book is a difficult read and definitely not for the weak hearted. If you do not like ambiguity, avoid the book. If you like to make your own judgements and want to see 19th century Canada through the eyes of a servant girl, go ahead.