It’s dark and moody. It’s a puzzle with a few missing pieces, and that last piece stays missing until you’re just about ready to throw in the towel. But then that moment of realization finally happens, and you think, really, it was there all along. Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin ferries us along multiple streams - stories within a story - and brings them all together somehow.
The Blind Assassin is the sub-story to a greater narrative. There are two sisters, Iris and Laura, growing up wealthy, but sheltered and naive. Their mother dies early, their father struggles in business and relationships, and the girls are raised by the hired help. The sisters struggle through a series of tutors, small-town events, and their father’s dying button factory with a war and depression as the backdrop. While not worldly, older sister, Iris is practical. Laura, on the other hand is idealistic, very literal, and resists social norms for the sake of decorum.
At a young age, Iris is married off by her struggling father to an older, ’new money’ industrialist to seal a business deal. Young Laura struggles to find her place in her new environment with Iris and her husband, and both sisters have ideas of their places in the world and agendas of their own.
Within this emotional travail, another thread runs through the book, where we track two lovers meeting in secret, weaving their own story of The Blind Assassin, a science fiction adventure. Who are these paramours? And from whom are they hiding? What is the significance of this alien planet and warring creatures they’ve created?
Relaying the tale is Iris in her later years. We learn a lot from Iris about her life, her sister’s, and the events that led to her sister’s death. “It’s loss and regret and misery and yearning…” There is no one in the book who does not carry some burden of guilt of some sort. Which I suppose is real enough. Yes, it’s all rather depressing.
Atwood’s ability to undulate between the stories is expert and creative. But the book is also long and tedious at times. My feelings are mixed about it overall, but I’m curious enough to give Atwood another try since she has a long list of awards and recognition. Perhaps my expectations were too high on this one.
Publisher: Anchor Books
Vickie’s rating: 3 stars