As “The Blind Assassin” opens, young Laura Chase drives her car off a bridge killing herself. Her sister, Iris, gets the call of her accident. As Iris recounts the story, she seems cold and removed from her sister’s death. From the first page, you would think Iris didn’t care much for her younger sibling.
After telling of her sister’s death, Iris takes the story back to the very beginning, to when they were just children. Iris and Laura grew up in a well-off family in a small industrial town in Canada. Their father owned the button factory his father had started. Iris weaves along her life’s path from childhood, to her teenage years, to her marriage and beyond.
As Iris takes us through her life in great detail, Atwood introduces us to her ‘novel within a novel’ entitled “The Blind Assassin.” This novel is a science-fiction story created by a pair of anonymous lovers as they lay in bed. The characters are never named. We only know it’s a rich woman and her socialist, on-the-run lover. This part of the book was confusing but intriguing at the same time.
Set against the backdrop of World War I, social unrest, the depression and eventually World War II, the novel and characters are inspired and motivated by the changing times and transformations. I really enjoyed Atwood’s main character and narrator, Iris Chase Griffen. She’s an old lady with a heart condition that has outlived most everyone she knew. She is smart, witty, cynical and refuses to give in to her ailing body. I enjoyed Iris’ narration so much, I found myself frustrated when I had to jump into the “novel within a novel.”
“The Blind Assassin” is full of twists and hidden connections that are slowly revealed. At times I wasn’t sure I was enjoying this book. I knew I liked Atwood’s writing, but I was a little confused and couldn’t see where the story was going or how it would all come together. I kept reading though, and in the end, I was glad I stuck with this book. By the time I turned the last page, I was rewarded as the mysteries were revealed and the ending was filled with surprises.
This is the first of Atwood’s books I’ve read, but definitely not the last. Her writing is beautiful and captivating. She has a way of capturing a moment and an emotion that few writers can. Some people may find her a little too wordy, but I never found myself wanting to skim pages or skip forward.
“The Blind Assassin” is a wonderfully crafted novel full of family secrets, sibling rivalry, political and social unrest, promises and betrayals, all woven together seamlessly into a brilliantly written novel.
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