After enjoying Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood on audio, I decided to try another of hers, so I picked up The Blind Assassin from my library.
About the Book:
Near the end of her life, Iris Chase Griffin has decided to set the record straight. She’s undertaken a memoir of sorts, the story of her life and the life of her sister, Laura Chase, noted local authoress. It’s a saga that spans many decades and includes love, duty, triumph, and heartbreak.
Iris’s story reads like a diary: chapters begin with her present situation (her weak heart, short walks around town, visits from a friend) and then fade into the past (her childhood as the daughter of a prominent manufacturer, her marriage, Laura’s doings). Here and there are newspaper announcements and articles from the society papers: birth and death announcements, news about the prominent Chase and Griffin families, gossip about the clothing worn by affluent women at exclusive gatherings. And woven through everything are chapters from The Blind Assassin, a novel published only after Laura’s untimely death.
But why is Iris writing this record of her life? What bearing does The Blind Assassin have on Iris’s tale?
As I started The Blind Assassin, I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep the different elements straight: Iris’s present life, her past, the newspaper clips, and the novel chapters. It didn’t take long for me to get used to the various pieces, though, and from then on I had no trouble keeping my place.
Iris is a lovely narrator. She has a way with words, a keen eye for observation, an obvious soft spot for her sister Laura. At times, she speaks directly to the reader; at others, she simply narrates her story. And what a story it is. The memoir Iris is writing spans from her earliest memories as a young, naive little girl to the end of her life as a woman in her 80s. It’s a lot of ground to cover.
As Iris’s story proceeds, alternating with chapters of The Blind Assassin (the novel within the novel), the bits of overlap between the two are obvious, and it becomes clear that the novel has some basis in reality. The interplay between supposed memoir and fiction was rather fascinating as one detail morphed into another and one event occurred in both places with only minor alterations. The characters in the novel remain nameless, yet it doesn’t take much guesswork to reach an assumption about their identities.
I loved this novel. I found Iris’s life enthralling, her narration charming, her gradually revealed motives fascinating. She is someone I wish I’d known, the sort of character with whom I’d like to sit down and chat. The way in which she brings all the stray pieces together at the novel’s end surprised and delighted me. And then there is some elusive something about The Blind Assassin, some air of mystery or enchantment, that I cannot name but also loved.
I listened to Margot Dionne read The Blind Assassin. Her voice was lovely and soft, articulate but understated, perfect for Iris. Dionne altered her style depending on which component she was reading, so that Iris, the newspaper articles, and The Blind Assassin chapters each had its own subtly distinguished voice. Though the audiobook was 18 hours long (making it the longest audiobook I’ve ever tackled), I never lost interest. I’m glad I chose to listen to this novel and would highly recommend the audiobook to anyone interested.
Have you ever read a novel that included another novel within it? If so, what did you think?
And also…if you’re a fan of Margaret Atwood, what should I read next? So far I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale and The Penelopiad and listened to Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and The Blind Assassin. I’ve heard The Robber Bride is good. Any suggestions?