The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood


“I like long novels,” I overheard a bookstore clerk say years ago. “I like long novels that span years and in which characters change and grow.” Though I don’t believe she was talking about Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, she could’ve been. This is a family saga that spans several generations, but it mostly focuses on two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase, who witnessed the collapse of their family’s fortune and who suffered the consequences of this fall from grace.

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer who first made a literary impression with feminist poetry. Women issues defined most of her work, and feminist themes run deep in The Blind Assassin. Despite this, the novel should appeal to both genders, because the propelling conflict in this novel isn’t WOMAN vs. MAN but POWERLESS vs. POWERFUL. The struggle of women in decaying economic times is just a microcosm of the struggle of all people during such times.

The Blind Assassin encases a story within a story within a story. Whereas that might sound like you have three plots to follow, in truth, the inner stories compliment the main story and help to give it texture and context. The main story is narrated by Iris Chase Griffen, a woman in her eighties, who, knowing she’s about to die, writes her life story. It is an intriguing story of secrets and lies, of the abuses of power and wealth, and of survival and maintaining one’s personal integrity.

Since much of the action happens in the 1930s, I would recommend this book to readers who like historical fiction. I would also recommend it to anyone who likes literary fiction. Though it’s a phrase I use often, and hear others use, I am not sure what literary fiction means. Like the oft-repeated definition of pornography: I know it, when I see it. I suppose it is writing where all elements–style, plot, characters, setting, and theme–conspire to forge something memorable and lasting. This book will be one I will remember and respect for the rest of my life.

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