World Book Night: Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin
The Booker prize winning novel of Margaret Atwood (2000), The Blind Assassin opens shockingly with: “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 (whom we later learn are Alex and Laura) who meet for trysts in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailing boat carrying the dead body of her husband, Richard Griffen, a distinguished industrialist who had been in competition with her father.
The shifting time-frames and the novel-within-a-novel demand your close attention, and I found myself hurrying through chapters of the secondary story as if they were a distraction from the main narrative. I do feel that using several different time-frames, as well as including a sub-story, detract from the momentum of the book as a whole. It is undeniably very clever, but can be frustrating for the reader.
However, I did enjoy the mystery created by Atwood concerning the “who is who” of the sub-story, and the “who did what” that runs throughout Iris’s reflections on her life in Canada between the wars. It is my first Atwood novel, I am grateful that WBN has introduced me to a prominent contemporary author, and I look forward to reading more of her earlier work.