Sunday, September 4, 2011

Athena K's Review - The Blind Assassin

I finished this book a few days ago, and have spent the time reflecting that it is in many ways a perfect novel.  This is one of those books that gets better the more you think about it.

As many reviewers have noted, Margaret Atwood tells us the same story in three different ways (or four, depending on how you count them): (1) Newspaper clippings describing events, (2) Iris Chase Griffin's memoirs in her last years and (3) the story The Blind Assassin, in which an anonymous man tells a science fiction story to his lover.  These narration are interwoven throughout the novel.  All three of these types of narration have strengths and weaknesses, and while all three are describing the same era and events, the impression we get of the characters is vastly different.  None of them tells a complete story.  The reader is forced to guess and fill in the blanks throughout.  Ironically, we discover that the news clippings, perhaps the most objectively "true" are in fact the least accurate versions of what occurred.  In many ways, the  fictional story The Blind Assassin is the most accurate telling of history. 

Strikingly, the portrayal of Iris herself in these narrations varies the most.  Her passivity makes her a remarkably un-interesting character - except that she isn't nearly as passive as we might believe.  I'm not sure if we can ascribe her passivity to "the role of women at the time" - certainly Atwood has commentary on the subject, but Winnifred Griffin Prior is also a woman of the time and she is certainly not a passive participant in her life or in others'.  Thankfully for the story, Iris is in fact complex, complicated, and dynamic - and a great narrator.

I've also been pondering the story The Blind Assassin and its significance to the novel as a whole.  Is Iris the true Blind Assassin?  Is she more like the sacrificial, tongueless girl in the story?  What is the significance of the various endings to the story that are played with?  I will have to re-read this with these questions in mind.

Of course, Atwood's brilliant style shines within this structure.  I have been a fan of hers for years, but somehow did not get around to reading this one before.  She picks apart the English language in digressions, implements turns of phrase with ease and cleverness, and sucks you in.  And although she tells you the ending in the first 2 or 3 chapters, she still manages to surprise and shock.  What more can you ask for?

1 comment:

  1. Love love love love this novel. I want to teach this book to undergrads. I want to write a critical commentary on this book. The Blind Assassin is perfect.