I don't read historical fiction very often anymore, but I really enjoyed this. I'm sure it helps that it was written by Margaret Atwood, who I love despite not having read that many of her books yet.
Alias Grace is inspired by the true story of Grace Marks, one of Canada's most notorious murderesses in the mid-19th century. Grace was a servant who was convicted of helping the stable boy, James McDermott, murder their master and his housekeeper. While both were sentenced to death, Grace's lawyer later had her sentence commuted to life imprisonment while McDermott hung, pleading her young age (sixteen at the time of the murders) and implying that she was either insane or an idiot. It's clear that Grace is neither, though, when Atwood writes in her voice. Her fictionalized version is extremely astute, making wise observations on the nature of gender and class in society. The majority of the novel is written from her point-of-view, while maybe a third of the chapters are from the perspective of Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychiatrist interviewing her as part of his studies of amnesia, who is dealing with his own inner struggle and fall from polite society. The text is also interspersed with actual quotes from the period taken from journalists, scholars, and poets, which show how the public's view of Grace may have differed significantly from reality. (Or reality as Atwood imagines it, at least.)
Atwood handles the raw material of the case with an admirable amount of care. None of her fictionalization outright contradicts the historical facts, it merely fills in what might have been
where we don't know. Grace's guilt or innocence is immaterial, and the novel really isn't about the murders itself, or whether she committed them. It has so much more to say about how awful life was for poor women in the 1800's, and about the beginnings of psychology, and sex, life, and love. Highly recommended.