The Blind Assassin (2000)
By Margaret Atwood

Review: The Blind Assassin

By Phoebe Ayers, MLIS Day


I have had a copy of The Blind Assassin sitting unread on my shelf since Margaret Atwood spoke on campus last year. I finally read it over winter break this year, and now I wonder why I waited so long.

This is a revelation of a novel. The full story is unclear until the very end, the characters start by dying and working backwards, and there is a narrator so sharp and vivid - Mrs. Iris Chase Griffen tells us the tale of her eighty some-odd years, from fortune to downfall - that I was convinced I could indeed find references to her in old issues of the Toronto paper.

The Blind Assassin is three stories in one - Iris's tale of her life and that of her sister Laura, which is a story that spans Canadian and world and personal history; the tale of two mysterious lovers who meet secretly and never call each other by name; and a science fiction story entitled The Blind Assassin that the lovers invent and tell one another, piece by piece and meeting by meeting. (There is also a fourth, subsidiary story, of Laura's posthumously published novel that has made her famous and that we never learn the name of). These stories are told, jumped between, hinted at and looped back around on; how they relate is a puzzle for the reader that is amplified by the interest of finding out what happens next to Iris and Laura. Like many Atwood novels, the story is compelling and vaguely disturbing; her characters are not necessarily pretty and there are not happy endings. But everything seems as real as if it had been shot with a black and white camera; I found myself, near the end of the book, dreaming about the characters.

The Blind Assassin is not a light read (rather, it has the weight of a classical tragedy, with Atwood's signature sharp details interspersed) but it is an enveloping book - a novel that defies genre and place and easy answers. It is well worth your patience and care in reading, and it will reward you beyond all expectation.



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