The Tree of Paradise

Today’s cookies are inspired by a book I read recently which I was very glad to finish.

Why was I glad to finish it?

Well, let me tell you it wasn’t because it was bad. In fact, it was brilliant. Utterly evocative and compelling. But it gave me nightmares. It was disturbing and strange and unsettling. The book was Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. It’s not a new book but I was inspired to read it after seeing the new series produced by Sara Polley which premiered on Netflix recently. Generally, I like to read the book before seeing the movie or the TV series if possible, but for some reason I can’t recall now, I simply didn’t engage with Alias Grace the first time I tried to read it. This time, I had no problems staying immersed in the text. I actually had more trouble switching my brain off when I wasn’t reading it! My thoughts kept straying back to it, even though I was doing other things. That’s the mark of a good book, I always think.

Alias Grace is the story of an Irish girl who travels to 19th Century Toronto with her family and is soon left impoverished. Forced to find work, she becomes a servant in a rich household and is befriended by her roommate and fellow domestic, Mary Whitney. Although she is happy for a time, trouble finds her and she loses her friend and her position, before deciding to accept a new position on a remote property. Isolated from her peers, Grace grows increasingly worried about the attentions of her employer towards her even as she tries to mediate between a disgruntled male servant and her employer’s housekeeper. The disaster is inevitable and horrific, the result being that Grace is charged with murder and sentenced to death, which is later commuted to life in a penitentiary and mental asylum.

Twelve years later, an aspiring psychiatrist Dr Simon Jordan, agrees to examine Grace at the behest of a group of do-gooders who are trying to ascertain her pardon. This section of the novel is actually the part I found most disturbing. As Dr Jordan teases Grace’s story out of her, working his way up to the day of the murders in order to establish her innocence or guilt, he becomes himself slightly unhinged and without spoiling the end, things do not go as planned.

The cookies I’ve made here are inspired by Grace’s favourite quilt design; the Tree of Paradise. Quilts are a strong motif within Alias Grace. For this design, I took my inspiration from an actual Amish quilt because I just loved the look of it. Grace’s quilt would most likely have been triangles and squares.

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