Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin: a novel within a novel
YEARS AGO my friend Dianne asked me if we could swap books. I'd lend her Different Seasons by Stephen King in exchange for her copy of Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. She called it one of her favorite novels, having confessed that she immediately reread it as soon as she had finished it.
I'm ashamed to admit this, but I had only read The Blind Assassin this week. I can only blame myself, of course. I shoved the book inside my cabinet where it was drowned in My Compilation of Unread Books. I didn't feel it was time to embark on it then.
I'm familiar with Margaret Atwood and consider her one of the authors I enjoy reading. I liked Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid's Tale. Both reeked of dystopia, of a world gone wrong, of characters in isolation, living in places different but still quite alike our own. So it didn't come as a surprise that The Blind Assassin had me hooked, as well—no end-of-the-world plots there, but a lot of deception, abuse, and human sacrifice to pagan gods.
The protagonist is Iris Chase, the wife of Richard, a much older, powerful man who marries her to expand his business. Iris doesn't have any choice but to agree to the arrangement. Her sister Laura despises Richard. Laura goes through a phase of teenage rebellion of sorts—making a mess of herself in school, disappearing for days on end . . . you know the story—until news about her suicide reaches
The answers can be anything, but The Blind Assassin, a novel written by Laura and published posthumously, helps shed light on Laura's mental and emotional condition at the time. This novel becomes a classic, with the dead Laura having many admirers and followers, some of them occasionally bringing flowers to decorate her grave.
Atwood's story shows how deep man's depravity is. She paints a graphic picture of greed and lust for power at the expense of others. It is a truly sad state, and the only escape that Atwood allows her protagonist Iris, now already old and dying, is the chance to vent it all out—a narration of the things she did and why she did them—hoping that her granddaughter, who has long been alienated from her, somehow forgives her.
The tales are intricately weaved, so much so that at the end of it all, the reader will feel that he has been tricked, like what Ian McEwan did in Atonement. But he will not mind the trickery—it is the story.