London, July 2018
Grace Marks, a real woman hanged for murder in 1800s, is visited by Dr Jordan who, influenced by the burgeoning psychology of the unconscious, seeks to help Grace recall her actions (or lack of) on the day Thomas Kenner and Nancy Montgomery were murdered.
Composed of a mix of first-person point of view and letters sent to or received by Dr Jordan (everyone from his concerned mother to the previous keeper of Grace Marks’ asylum), the novel never provides the satisfaction of concluding the extent of Marks’ involvement.
The case for Marks’ innocence, which I initially supported, is blurred brilliantly over the course of the novel. This doubt is assisted by Grace’s recollections of Nancy Montgomery’s character (who it seems fair to surmise as someone willing to kick her subordinates on her way up the social ladder), to her co-accused James McDermott’s testimony of the events leading up to and upon the day itself.
Throw in the reappearance of a the drifter formally known as Jeremiah who now goes by the name DuPont and is a ‘renowned spiritualist’ who remembers Marks in his latter role though encourages her not to acknowledge this. As a spiritualist, he ‘reads’ Grace and questions her over the day of the murders, the outcome raising the question of who (in this case, a deceased friend) was in control of Grace that day.
The truly innocent chahacrter in the account, Jamie Walsh, accuses Grace of the crimes committed (or testifies against her). With nothing to lose, it seems more than likely that the prosecution was right. Marks’ seeming manipulation of Dr. Jordan can be paraphrased as – Dr. Jordan seemed happy when I said that and wrote it down. Her silent seduction of the troubled doctor fits with the portrayal by McDermott of her agreeability leading up to the double murder.
Definitely interesting. History reveals no real answers and the narrative highlights the gaps and plays with them rather than attempting to absolutely fill them.