I enjoy well-done historical fiction. I can appreciate it when an author stays true to the time period and facts of a certain era while creating a new story, or elaborating on facts to make a story come to life.
However, when it is done badly, it makes me want to throw the book against the wall-something I have done a few times in the past.
For those authors who do create beautiful fiction set in historical settings, I commend them. Writing good historical fiction is extremely difficult. There is that threat of a history buff finding something at fault in the novel and ripping it to shreds (I have been known to do that). That is why I can appreciate work like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. While she certainly takes some liberties in what she is writing, she does it well and for the most part, only tweaks history when she needs to. It is also clear from reading her work that she did her homework.
So I am looking forward to Atwood's novel, which could also be classified as historical fiction. Alias Grace is centered on the true story of the deaths of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery in 1843. The two other servants in the house, James McDermott and Grace Marks, were convicted of the murders and sentenced to death. Somehow, Grace was saved from her death sentence and spent many years in prison before being released (not a plot spoiler, merely what happened).
In Alias Grace, Atwood attempts to fill in the questions that so many people had at the time. Taking place years after the murders, Atwood creates a fictional doctor who is trying to learn the truth from Marks through interview. Atwood also throws in excerpts from newspapers published during teh time of the murders, observations from the wardens and guards where Grace was kept, court transcripts, as well as poems, etc that all highlight the characters.
Now, while I am only about 50 pages in, I can tell you this. Atwood is creating GREAT historical fiction. She is remaining true to the facts that are known, while creating a story to fill in the gaps. It is riveting. And while I already know what happens to Grave Marks based on historical fact, I am still anxiously turning each page to see if I am right. That is the mark of a great writer. She is turning a story I already know into something much more powerful and emotional.
My only hope is that she continues to stay true to the story and history, or this book will be fated to hit the wall as well. But I have a feeling it won't go there.