This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

A good friend of mine loaned me this book awhile ago and this has sat on my bookshelf for months. I took it with me to the Philippines but never 'felt' like reading it. After the last book, I decided it was time.

There's a 'rhythm' to reading this...or at least, something to get used to. And quite honestly, I thought I had that rhythm but after reading about this book_after_ I read it, apparently, I had it all wrong. It doesn't matter. I still had the gist of the book. I just had it a little off.

***Spoiler Alert***
The setting is in a fictional town called Port Ticonderoga in Canada. It flashes from 1999 to the 1930s. The main character is Iris Chase.  What is amazing to me is how Atwood writes Chase's character in a way that we embrace her as a sound and warm and sensible child. We meet Laura, her sister, who is described as 'odd', 'off', 'simple'. She is gentle and is kind and is unapologetic. And Laura ends up being the person the reader, or just me?, ends up loving, rooting for, mourning, vs. Iris, who we want to shake, slap, and scream at for just doing nothing.

I'm getting ahead of myself... The story is told by Iris, in her 80s. She is writing her story for her granddaughter, Sabrina, who she hasn't seen for quite awhile. She tells the tales of her grandparents, where her grandfather started a button-making factory that was very prosperous, which made the Chase family a big name in Port Ticonderoga.

She describes her father taking over the business and being a loyal business man to the town, ensuring that he provided jobs to the local folks. They remained prosperous during the first war, providing buttons for uniforms and such. Their mother was a pillar for the town but also weak in health. She died while pregnant with her third child, something Iris's younger sister would forever characterize the baby as a little 'kitten'.

During Iris's storytelling, Atwood would intersperse chapters with "The Blind Assassin" chapters. In these chapters, a high society married woman would meet a down-trodden man in a sleazy motel room and after their tryst, the man would tell a sci-fi story for her; a story within a story. These 'blind assassin' chapters, to me, were Laura or Iris meeting some mysterious dude, who would later be Alex Thomas (explain later), for their sexual liaisons. It was after I read the book and found references to it that the blind assassin chapters were actually meant to be excerpts from the book "The Blind Assassin" purportedly written by Laura Chase, but really written by Iris. Confused yet? It really isn't that confusing when you read the book. :)

Alex Thomas was a young man that Laura met when she was 14. She invited him to a dinner at her home because, that's just the kind of thing Laura would do. He was a radical young man (18, I think) that became falsely accused of burning down one of Iris's dad's factories. Laura, and then Iris, hid him and then successfully smuggled him out. The fact that he would remain the love of Laura's life and become Iris's lover is pretty cool; this minor character turns into the most significant one of the entire book.

Why, you wonder? Well, the book started with this:
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.
 Yes. Laura committed suicide. After Iris told her that Alex was killed in the war...and essentially admitting to her affair with Alex. But Iris had been a total douche, living with a man who she hated, who treated her like crap, was 'molesting' her own sister and she naively had no idea. He institutionalized Laura, after Laura became pregnant and she did nothing. It ended up that Laura came out as the mature one, while Iris ended up being the 'simple' one, as adults...only Laura couldn't handle it and drove off.

It's a great book. I enjoyed it, thinking I wouldn't. The story within a story - not the affair but the story that Alex was telling to Iris after the rendezvous was also interesting. But Laura is probably one of the best characters I've ever 'met'. I enjoyed her immensely and I hoped for a different ending. That, perhaps, she really wasn't the person behind the wheel. That she really didn't die...that there was weird twist to this story.

Here is one example of Laura's trait. Iris has been told that Laura had left her a message, before she was sent to a mental hospital. As Iris tries to recount where Laura would have left that message, she remembers this:
Then I remembered coming upon her once, in Grandfather's study, when she was ten or eleven. She'd had the family Bible spread out in front of her, a great leathery brute of a thing, and was snipping sections out of it with Mother's old sewing scissors.
"Laura, what are you doing?" I said. "That's the Bible!"
"I'm cutting out the parts I don't like."
"You shouldn't be doing this," I said.
"It's only paper," said Laura, continuing to snip. "Paper isn't important. It's the words on them that are important."
"You'll get in big trouble."
"No, I won't," she said. "No one ever opens it. They only look in the front, for the births, the marriages and the deaths."
She was right, too. She was never found out.

1 comment:

  1. My grandma's recommended Margaret Atwood to me before, but I haven't gotten a chance to read anything by her yet.

    In other news I totally just came here because I'm working on an English project and am making George Milton (from Of Mice and Men's) fictional blog and needed a bar to add to the sidebar and remembered you had those sorts of links. xD