Margaret Atwood’s writing may be just a tad too smart for me. She interlocks these three stories she’s weaving like pieces of a basket, some parts are obvious, some hidden or subtle. Iris and her sister Laura, grow up with their father, the benevolent owner and manager of a button factory. However, the Depression hits harder than they originally realize, and soon the factory has to shut down. Meanwhile, choices need to be made in order to ensure the girls’ success in life, or so we are told by their father and all the men who seem to run their lives. Throughout this main story, readers are given chapters of Laura’s book, called The Blind Assassin. Within that story, the main characters are creating their own work of fiction. In all of these stories, readers are left wondering how and why Laura’s ultimate and premature death came about, and learning what we can from Iris herself, the master storyteller.
This book is incredibly dense. I was glad I started this book in the airport, where I had several hours of uninterrupted reading time to get me on my feet with this novel. I picked up The Blind Assassin a few years back, after I finished reading A Handmaid’s Tale, but needed a break in between her books. This was a great time to pick the book back up.
“‘It’s all right to show boredom,’ she said. ‘Just never show fear. They’ll smell it on you like sharks and come in for the kill.'”
Atwood’s writing is incredibly eloquent and quotable. Her words flow off the pages and read so smoothly I feel as if a smarter version of myself takes over my brain for a while, spinning incredible and touching stories. While I did not cry at the end of either A Handmaid’s Tale or The Blind Assassin, I felt a full range of emotions alongside these complex characters, and I feel sentimental towards the end of their story.
I particularly love Atwood’s use of metaphor and analogy in describing emotions related to experiences. She makes it very clear and tangible those visceral reactions people sometimes feel when witnessing other interactions. Take the following quotes from Iris, for example:
“In theory I could go wherever I liked, in practice there were invisible barriers…. I felt as if I’d been picked up and set down in a foreign country where everyone spoke a different language. Sometimes there would be couples, arm in arm – laughing, happy, amorous. Victims of an enormous fraud, and at the same time its perpetrators, or so I felt. I stared at them with rancor.”
“I sometimes felt as if these marks on my body were a kind of code, which blossomed, then faded, like invisible ink held to a candle. But if they were a code, who held the key to it? I was sand, I was snow – written on, rewritten, smoothed over.”
And of course Atwood’s observations of class that strike me as the most odd things to notice:
“The thing I recall most clearly from the voyage, apart from Laura, was the looting that went on, all over the ship, on the day we sailed into port. Everything with the Queen Mary name or monogram on it went into a handbag or suitcase…. The first class passengers were worse than the others, but then, the rich have always been kleptomaniacs.”
I had a hard time not just quoting the entirety of the book, as it seems everything Atwood has to say feels relevant to my life in one way or another. She is so deeply in touch with what makes a character complex. She focuses on feeling and emotions that are aparent, but Atwood also makes time to delve deeper into the psyche and pull out the tidbits that make each person unique, namely our triggers and deep set reactions to the goings on of the world. In doing so, Atwood sparked in me a desire to explore some of those deeper reactions within myself; to wonder if I share any traits with the characters in The Blind Assassin.
“It was three in the morning. I waited until my heart had stopped protesting, then groped my way downstairs and made myself a hot milk. I should have known better than to rely on pills. You can’t buy unconsciousness quite so cheaply.”
In the end I didn’t see most of the unfolding events coming. I find I am very dense when it comes to plot twists these days, but particularly in The Blind Assassin where I was looking for the twists throughout the book, wondering where they would come, and yet I was still unable to predict the ultimate truth. I love these kinds of mysteries, the reality that’s just a bit off and leaves you wondering where the truth lies. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a deeper read.
Margaret Atwood is the well known author of dozens of books, including fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, poetry, and more. She’s Canadian! Born in 1939. You can find out more about her on her website!