This book has been on my to-read list forever, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long. I’m even considering giving it a place on my all-time great list. Unsurprisingly, The Blind Assassin has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards like the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction among others.
Most of this story is told from the point of view of Iris Chase, an old woman reminiscing back to her childhood and youth in 1920’s and 30’s Canada. Even though I said just a few reviews ago that I don’t really care for the flashback style, I’ll make an exception in this case
Iris and her sister Laura grew up without their mother in a wealthy household, and Iris went on to marry a wealthy industrialist. Both she and Laura have a complicated and ambiguous relationship with the intriguing Alex Thomas, a radical agitator who writes pulp science fiction. A book attributed to Laura, relating her affair with Alex, is a book-within-a-book, and a third story, that of The Blind Assassin, told by the fictional Alex, is embedded within that one.
Iris’s present-day life as an old woman is interwoven with her reminiscences of hers and Laura’s early lives, along with the story of Laura’s novel, and Alex’s tale. It sounds confusing, but the interweaving is so skillfully done that the only thing of which I was conscious was the story moving forward and the desire to keep turning pages.
It didn’t take me too long to figure out that Iris, not Laura, was the long-ago novelist, but the ambiguity makes it easy to imagine either one of them as its protagonist. Iris seems a bit tough and detached, but understandably so. Laura is endearingly weird and sensitive, which makes the events of her later life all the more upsetting. Alex remains an elusive character, with quite a few unanswered questions about who he really was, what he was doing and what he really felt for Iris and Laura. Iris’s husband Richard Griffen, and his sister Winifred, make interesting, sometimes enjoyable villains.
There’s really no way to describe this book that does it justice. The writing is just outstanding, and Atwood easily changes styles as she just as effortlessly switches from one story to another. I’ll definitely be reading more of her work.