When I saw “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood on my Contemporary Fiction syllabus, I was floored. For the first time in the history of my English major, I was assigned a book that I was planning on reading anyway. After reading “The Handmaid’s Tale,” another of Atwood’s novels, my expectations were high for this book. And boy, did it deliver.
This book is all over the place, but in a good way. There are three narratives that this book switches between: Iris’s present-day life as an 80-year-old woman, Iris’s life story and chapters from a science fiction book called The Blind Assassin written by Iris’s sister. Don’t ask me how the story of a dying woman, her debutant days and the tale of Planet Zycron work so well together because I honestly don’t know. Somehow, all three narratives sucked me in equally, and I was able to finish all 560 pages well before the deadline.
Just so you’re not totally lost, here’s as good of a plot summary as I can give: Iris is an old woman who will soon die of heart failure. She grew up in a mansion that her family has held for generations with her father and her younger sister Laura. On the first page, it’s revealed that Laura killed herself by driving off of a bridge when she was in her early 20’s. After Laura’s death, Iris discovered the manuscript for Laura’s science fiction story, which she decides to publish for Laura posthumously. As you work through Iris’s life story and the chapters of “The Blind Assassin,” incredible secrets are revealed and Iris’s present-day life starts to make more sense.
If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. This book definitely requires the reader to pay attention because it gets really complicated at times. But Atwood’s writing makes it all worth it, specifically when she describes the female experience. Iris, like many women of her class in the 1940’s, was unhappily married to a much older man. The way her husband treats her seemed to me like a metaphor for how all women are restricted because of the way men dominate the world. Iris is held captive by the expectations of high society in a way that translates very well to the present day.
The plot of these three interlaced stories is intriguing, but what really got to me was Atwood’s writing style: this book is a piece of art. On every other page, there was a line that blew my mind. I highlighted so many “favorite lines” in this book that half the pages are completely drenched in fluorescent yellow. This may not be the easiest read, but the best books rarely are. If you’re a washed-up science fiction addict who doesn’t know what to say when someone asks you, “what’s your favorite novel,” this book is the perfect place to start.