Although both books written by the prominent Canadian author have been hailed as bastions of feminist literature, it is The Handmaid's Tale that is most often quoted by feminist writers and thinkers. It depicts a future, fantasy landscape in which women are subjected to total control by men and illustrates how easily hard-earned rights might be taken from us.
However, those looking for a story exposing the nightmare of womanhood are better served by Netflix's own Atwood adaptation, Alias Grace. It turns out, reality is more powerful than fantasy.
Netflix's Alias Grace offers a horrifying look at the real circumstances of a woman called Grace Marks. In the 1840s Marks was an Irish immigrant who arrived in Canada with no money and a recently deceased mother to boot.
As a young woman, Marks found herself convicted of the murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear and the housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. She spent 30 years in the penitentiary, eventually being declared innocent and released 30 years after her conviction. Her fellow employee, James McDermott (Kerr Logan) was sentenced to death.
Atwood gives us an imagined biography of this real-life woman. In her version of the story, Marks (Sarah Gadon) is taken from prison each morning to the house of the governor where she's employed to work as a maid and where she sits with a curious and kindly psychologist to tell her tale of woe.
And what a tale of woe it is. Perched in various corners of the house, she sits making quilts for the eldest daughter of the family and dredging up her past. This vulnerable young girl finds herself thrust into a world in which women are always responsible for the terrible things men do to them. She reminds the kindly doctor that if a man is found in a woman's bedroom, it's always her fault that he's there, no matter how he got in.
Through her careful allusion to things she's too embarrassed to state explicitly, Marks paints horrifying pictures of sexual assault, the regular (in fact it seems practically compulsory) abuse of maids by their male employers, the appalling consequences for those women in an atmosphere of blame and oppression.
There are no exciting chase scenes, or unnecessarily gratuitous moments. But if a delicately told story exposing female oppression is why you turn to Margaret Atwood, then the reality of what life was like for girls not that long ago leaves a stronger taste in the mouth than a fictionalised future in which woman might loose the rights we have won.
|What||Alias Grace, Netflix review|
|Where||UK Netflix | MAP|
03 Nov 17 – 31 Jan 18, 8:00 AM – 12:00 AM