Based on the true story of Grace Marks, an infamous murderer in Canada in the 1840’s, Atwood’s book uses different narrators to tell the story, as well as interspersing the story with extracts from other works. From poems, fiction, newspapers of the time, and other sources. Although this is based on the real story, Atwood has, of course, fictionalised a great deal of the novel.
The two narrators are Grace herself, who tells her story in the first person, past tense, and Simon Jordan, the doctor investigating her claims of insanity or innocence. His parts are told by a third person narrator, and are in the present tense.
Mad Bad Richard Dadd has been commissioned by Sir Thomas to paint a record of their journey through Europe. But travelling from Greece he is visited one night by a strange figure calling himself Osiris. But that is just a name this figure has taken, he is insistent that he is no supernatural character.
Dadd is a real-life character, a famous Victorian painter, and infamously a murderer. This is a possible telling of how he became this murderer.