The Blind Assassin
"Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." This is how Iris begins the story of her life. Iris is now elderly and alone. She starts writing about herself, Laura, and their family. Their grandfather started a button factory in Port Ticonderoga in the late 1800's. Their grandmother was quite the society lady. Their father and his brothers went to World War I, the Great War. Iris was born during the war, Laura a few years later after the war. The girls grow up in a small Canadian town looking in on Toronto society.
Throughout Iris' story of the present and the past is intermingled another story, the science fiction risque novel that was published after Laura Chase' death. The story developed a cult and academic following. Over 40 years after Laura's death people are still leaving flowers on her grave in appreciation and memorial for the book, wishing she had written more before she died.
Between Iris' reminisces and the novel are newspaper clippings, letters, and other memorabilia help tell the story. These entries are not chronologically in order with the story. Early in the novel there is Iris' husband's obituary. Yet she is still a young girl in her memories. When she is writing about her present, she refers to happenings that have not yet occured.
The Chases live through the Great War, through good times, through labor unrest, the Great Depression, and on into World War II. As teens they harbor a fugitive from the law that changes the rest of their lives. They have been isolated in their small town, watching the world through Iris' naive eyes and Laura's straightforward vision colored by her religious beliefs. Their perceptions of the world never jive, but they love each other.
I never know what to expect from the next Margaret Atwood novel I read. The Blind Assassin keeps up with that tradition. The novel is a group of stories within a story. At first the book seems disjointed as it jumps from Iris as an old woman to her young memories to the science fiction novel to the outside world's perceptions of the family. Yet the disjointedness is intriguing. I needed to keep going, following Iris' elusive chain of events. Although the novel begins with Laura's death, that incident is neither the beginning nor the end of the story.
When Iris is telling her current daily activities, she also becomes philosophical. This novel combines the different stories and the philosophy. I found myself pondering the questions she raised and answered, often about my own life. When Iris' wrote of her father's return from the war to her mother, Atwood writes "Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence." Ouch - our memories tend to make things better than they were. Current reality often can't match up. Atwood throws these types of comments and ideas all throughout this novel. You could read through and ignore these ponderings. But that would diminish the book. The Blind Assassin is more than a collection of story lines making a life. It also makes us look at the worth of our own lives.
Notice: Suggestive dialogue or situations
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
Book Rating System