Back blurb of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel.
Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist. Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.
My takeI started out pretty well, then slowly got more and more disoriented. With more characters introduced, I felt things getting murkier. After recovering several chapters in, and sorting out who was who, backtracking to understand the importance of newspaper stories interspersed … I started picking up pace and started enjoying myself. I was hooked.
Once in that quagmire of several stories happening all at once, I actually resisted leaving. I felt like I was racing to the finish line. Seemingly discrete characters and mini-stories magically melded and converged at the end. I was ecstatic yet reluctant at having finished the last page. It was like I had became privy to a huge secret. Atwood is truly a master at pacing her readers!
This is my first Atwood book and I am blown away by how unpredictably she has treated the oft-times predictable themes of familial love and dynamics. Isn’t the title brilliant? You read so much into the title alone … who is the blind assassin? Who killed whom? Was the character truly blind or merely casting a blind eye?
Spoilers here: On the other hand, I can’t say that this book isn’t without its flaws. For one, I disliked the two main characters. Our protagonist Iris is a boring old lady and somehow I was nagged that I couldn’t plausibly reconcile the risk-taking lover with the old lady she had become. While I enjoyed the character of Laura, she too became quite a tired, predictable character, at least she was consistently inconsistent throughout. Most of the characters were quite flat and stereotyped, particularly Iris’s husband Richard and her sister-in-law Winifred.
Are Atwood’s storytelling devices maybe, maybe overshadowing the story itself? The pulp science-fiction story narrated by Red, the lover, was interesting but did I miss the metaphors? I felt a little lost here. Sometimes the loveliest of tales don’t need any bells and whistles, a good yarn is a good yarn. Reduce the story to its bare bones and somehow the book loses its appeal and sad to say, is actually lackluster.