Friday, 10 July 2009

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This tragic and beautiful story centers around Iris Chase, its protagonist, and her younger sister Laura, who, we discover in the novel’s opening line, commits suicide shortly after the end of World War II. Iris, now well into her 80s, recalls the events and relationships of her childhood and youth with Laura, and everything leading up to her death. Iris’ narrative is punctuated by a story within a story – Laura’s novel The Blind Assassin (published post mortem) about a couple and their illicit affair. The couple in the story are referred to simply as ‘he’ and ‘she’, but over the course of the book it becomes clear that their story mirrors closely the real lives of Iris and Laura.

Laura was always an odd child: taking everything literally, deeply religious, curious and innocent. Iris as the eldest was charged with keeping an eye on her after their mother died, and eventually charged with looking after the family when she was married off into new money (and unhappiness) with Richard Griffen, an industrialist and factory-owner in Toronto, where much of the book is set. As things unfold it becomes clear that there is more to Iris than would seem – she is a full of secrets and untold stories.

I am at a loss as to what to write about this book. Atwood’s writing is delectable – her words are gourmet: sweet, tangy, rich, savory, full-bodied and flavorsome. The characters are so deeply-plumbed you feel the reverberations of them long after turning the last page. Iris’ tragedy, Laura’s blind innocence, and Richard’s inner demons are still haunting my mind days after I finished it. It is a devastating story, but at the same time it is devastatingly beautiful. If you’re looking for something to chew over and become deeply involved in, this is it. It will transport you to other worlds and other times, and it will illuminate your inner reality. I simply can’t think of how else to describe it – The Blind Assassin is like eating a 5-star meal in front of an astounding painting, while listening to the most moving piece of music you’ve ever heard.

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