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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - Book Review


The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood
Virago Press

Fiction-Net Rating 5 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

Laura Chase's older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First World War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister's tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. as Iris says, she herself lives 'in the long shadow cast by Laura'.

Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one, while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama. It is Margaret Atwood at her breathtaking best.

We Say

Quite simply, Margaret Atwood never, ever fails. I approach every new book she writes with trepidation, wondering if it can possibly be as good as the last one. I have yet to be disappointed. Having said that, doubts had begun to creep in during the early stages of this novel, The Blind Assassin. The first sentence is a tantalising genius stroke, "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge". but after this initial shocker, the pace slows down a lot, though it is certainly worth keeping the faith and sticking with it. Margaret Atwood literally builds up layer upon layer of depth and meaning, cautiously but quite deliberately leading the reader deeper into the story.

The eighty two-year-old narrator is Mrs Iris Chase Griffen. Iris narrates the history of her family, an old respected and wealthy family whose fortunes fail them sometime before the two world wars. She also tells the story of her own loveless marriage, a match of convenience made when the family was most down on its luck. Interwoven with this, is the actual text of a book attributed to her sister Laura called The Blind Assassin. Also, in between chapters, there are cuttings from various newspapers reporting on the deaths in the Chase-Griffen families and descriptions of social events that they attended. So, as you can tell, there's a lot of flesh on the bones of this novel. Reading a 'book within a book' is hard work at times but it does make for a very complete story that will leave you feeling wholly satisfied.

The style of Margaret Atwood's writing is thrilling as ever, with images that hit you right between the eyes with their unexpected accuracy. The last third of the book really picks up speed with all the little hints and threads beginning to make more sense as you arrive at the shocking revelations at the end. If you're already an Atwood fan, you'll love The Blind Assassin. If you're not a fan, read this novel and you soon will be.

Review by: Rachel Taylor

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