"Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge"
The Blind Assassin
Atwood, Margaret. 2000 [Genre: Literary Fiction]
So . . . . The Blind Assassin was my Classics Club spin result this quarter. Fortunately I had a copy waiting on hand, that I'd already attempted to read last October. This time, I managed to finish (yay!). The Blind Assassin is a story within a story within a story. Iris Chase recounts her life story, leading up and back to one of the pivotal events of her life; her sister Laura driving off a bridge. This story is intertwined with 'The Blind Assassin,' a novel written by Laura which Iris submitted to publishers after Laura's death and which becomes a modern classic - in itself, it's the story of a young woman's affair with a pulp science fiction writer. Then there's the story of the Blind Assassin, which the writer recounts to the young woman within Laura's book. Got it??
Like everything I've read by Atwood, The Blind Assassin showed an almost breath-taking command of the English language. Atwood knows what she's doing when it comes to words. Take almost any sentence out of context and it's a beautiful quote. For that reason alone I'd continue to pick up Atwood's writing from time to time!
That being said, on the whole The Blind Assassin just didn't do it for me. I spent the first 400 pages asking myself exactly what the book was meant to be about, because it all seemed a little pointless. The length of the story was unnecessary. Much of Iris's account in particular is full of meaningless detail, a fact that Atwood explicitly apologises for through Iris, stating that she knows much of what she's recounting has little relevance to the story at hand. You can feel from early on that the story is going to contain a twist, but the details around it are kept pointlessly concealed. Looking back, it was more than half way through a 600 page novel that the reader recieves the first significant clue as to how the story will end. For me, the feeling of 'what's the point in all this?' was compounded when I guessed the twist(s) with 200 pages to go, meaning the big reveal also fell more than a little flat.
I couldn't, and still can't upon finishing, find a single redeeming feature of any of the major characters. Iris herself is remorseless, insipid and ungrateful. Her tone is one of 'feel sorry for me' when she takes very little agency and even less responsibility. The villans of the tale are rather two-dimensional, a fact the author again even apologises for in one case, saying through Iris that he isn't particularly well-drawn. Laura. . . ugh. She struck me as one of those people that wants to be the star of the show and tries to achieve it by putting everyone above herself, but in a way that cries 'look at me! look at my sacrifice!' I understand that part of the novel's theme is to reflect a time where women had little choice in the roles they played, but the two sisters came across to me as at best misguided (Laura) or uncaring (Iris) and at worst spiteful. I don't think there was a single point when any character could be described as 'happy', to the point where the novel almost becomes one of unrealistic misery.
Overall? The Blind Assassin and I just didn't click. 2/5 stars and I'm glad to have it ticked off the Classics Club list.