Another Margaret Atwood book adaptation is coming to TV again, and we couldn’t be more excited. After the success of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, we’re pretty much willing to watch any Atwood adaptation. She’s long been one of our favorite authors, with her inventive (and often super creepy!) storytelling. This time, it’s her bestselling 1996 historical novel, Alias Grace, that’s set to premiere on Netflix in November.
Alias Grace is about a real life historical event that took place in Canada: the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper. 16-year-old Grace Marks was a servant of Kinnear’s, and both she and fellow servant, James McDermott, were convicted of the crimes. While James was eventually executed, Grace was kept in an asylum and released after 30 years. But the controversy and notoriety around the crimes never went away, particularly as opinion over Grace’s guilt was starkly divided, with some people seeing her as a manipulative murderer, while others viewed her as an impoverished girl coerced.
In her novel, Atwood fictionalizes the life of Grace, creating a complicated portrait of a young woman who may or may not know more than she lets on. The book also introduces us to the fictional Simon Jordan, a doctor who’s determined to study more about mental illness in order to open his own, more enlightened institution. Simon begins to work with Grace, trying to get to the bottom of the horrifying night that Grace claims to have forgotten. A twisting, mysterious story, Alias Grace is all about how nothing is ever quite as it seems. It’s also a book that is made to be a Netflix show, with its murder mystery plot, complex relationships and intriguing (and sometimes horrifying) historical details peppered throughout.
While we have to wait a bit before the show officially airs, the trailer was recently released and it’s everything we could have hoped for:
The show is being adapted by director and actress Sarah Polley, and it stars Sarah Gadon as Grace Marks. While it’s technically a Canadian production (it will air on CBC in September), Netflix acquired the global rights and will air the show in the US on November 2nd. We’re not sure how we’re going to wait three more months to watch it, but we do know that we’ll need a good distraction in the meantime. So here are 4 new books we plan on devouring instead, all dealing with historical murders and that age-old question: who really did it?
See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt
Like Atwood’s fictionalized imagining of Marks, Schmidt makes history come alive in her thoughtful debut novel about Lizzie Borden and what really happened that fateful night in 1892. Borden is arguably more well-known than Marks – we all know the song written about her potential murders (Lizzie Borden took an axe/and gave her mother forty whacks…). But Borden was later acquitted of the crimes and no one really knows why her parents were murdered. See What I Have Done attempts to answer that question in a novel that’s impossible to put down. Told from several different perspectives, Schmidt recreates the atmosphere of the time period, the oppressive home that Borden was raised in, and the emotional state of a family with more secrets than they let on.
A Beautiful Poison, Lydia Kang
Kang’s historical novel is set in 1918 during both WWI and the Spanish influenza outbreak. In New York City, a series of deaths cause Allene, a wealthy socialite, to question what’s really going on. Are those close to her dying of the flu, or is there poison involved? Along with her two friends, Jasper and Birdie, Allene sets out to discover the truth. But their complicated pasts threaten to get in the way, as well as the looming threat of a killer who might be closer than they think. Kang paints a rich historical landscape, taking readers through the streets of NY as well as the corridors of the notorious Bellevue Hospital while three old friends race to find a murderer.
The Quiet Child, John Burley
Alias Grace is all about unpacking who you can trust, even when those people may appear to be the most innocent of all. It’s also a dilemma at the heart of Burley’s latest novel, where youth and innocence aren’t necessarily connected. Set in 1954, it tells the story of Jim Kent, a sheriff in Cottonwood, California, who’s tired of watching illness and ruin wreck havoc on his town. The citizens blame Danny McCray, a strange and quiet 6-year-old who seems to be at the heart of every problem. When Danny and his brother go missing, it’s up to Jim to find them before it’s too late. But just who is the victim and who is the perpetrator has yet to be discovered.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss
As fans of Alias Grace already know, there’s something voyeuristically fun about seeing a famous historical event from a new perspective. Goss takes that fun to a whole new level in this debut novel that brings together some of our most famous horror novel characters. After Mary Jekyll loses both of her parents, she has no way left to support herself. At the same time, a series of gruesome murders leads her to search for Edward Hyde, a man who betrayed her father (the reward money for capturing him doesn’t hurt either). Along the way she runs into all kinds of Victorian heroes, like Sherlock Holmes, Diana Hyde (Edward’s daughter), and many more. She also uncovers a secret society whose experimentation could have devastating consequences. If you love history, fun literary references, and a good mystery, then The Strange Case is definitely for you.