This is an intriguing story that Margaret Atwood has creatively re-woven from a true murder case that took place in the 1800s in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada. It is written from the perspectives of the imprisoned murderess and of the mental illness physician who was hired, sixteen years after her conviction, by campaigners for her release, to study her mental state prevalent at the time of the perpetration of the crime.
Interlaced with the enthralling narrative is the author’s insight into the deep social conflict between the affluent and the underclass (consisting mostly of poor immigrants) of the time, and the convoluted men-and-women relationships and the tension they lend to their daily lives. That insight is sometimes tempered with a sense of dry humor.
Overall, the novel has great drawing power, but it leaves the reader pondering over the innocence or otherwise of the protagonist and whether or not to feel empathy with her.
The style of writing is fluid and evocative of a past era and its attendant moral attitudes.