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The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood



Posted September 1, 2016 by

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood – 2000

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Reviewed by: Anna van Gelderen         Date: 8 October 2001

This is an absorbing, but complex novel that reveals the lives of the sisters Iris and Laura Chase. In spite of its complexity I did not find the novel heavygoing. On the contrary, the urge to find out what had really been going on, kept me going relentlessly. Atwood is such a masterful writer that she effortlessly interweaves the life of Iris as an old woman with the memoir of her younger years – and the main story of Laura’s posthumously published novel main with the lurid SF-tale told by one protagonist to another.

The novel begins with Laura’s death in 1945 and from there alternately shuttles back to her and Iris’s childhood and forward to the present. Inbetween are chapters from The Blind Assassin, Laura’s novel. Bit by bit things are revealed to the reader: not only about the personalities of Laura and Iris, but also what drove Laura to her death (although the answer to that one is not clear and unambiguous). We find out that Iris has always been shoved into roles assigned to her by other people: first as her sister’s keeper, then as her father’s intended successor in business and finally as the child-wife of her father’s rival. She hardly gets the chance to develop a personality of her own. When she finally does take control of her own life, she is punished with the loss of her daughter. Iris is entirely different. Nobody is able to get any hold on her; instead she obsessively takes hold of other people (God, the poor, the mysterious Alex) and stubbornly goes her own way. Whereas passive Iris thus seems to be victim of her environment, Laura seems to be rather the victim of her own character. Lots more can be said about this novel, but let me not forget to mention that for all its complexity it is also a moving, sensitive story, maybe not entirely up to the standard of Alias Grace, but still quite good.

The Blind Assassin: A Novel
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