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The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

MARGARET Atwood has written more than 40 works, poetry and critical essays as well as fiction, and has been published in over 35 countries. In the year 2000, her novel The Blind Assassin, won the prestigious Booker Prize. In 2003, four others made the shortlist.

Impressive credentials indeed but just how good is The Blind Assassin?

Set in Canada between the first and second World Wars, it’s the story of two privileged young women, sisters Iris and Laura Chase. Written for the most part in a first person narrative, events unfold through the eyes of Iris who, 50 years after Laura “drove a car off a bridge”, recalls the events that led to her death – a tragic accident or suicide…..

The whole is intersperced with images of Iris in the late 1990s – an old lady in failing health – but more surprisingly perhaps, with brief accounts of a clandestine love affair between a privileged young woman and a radical agitator on the run.

It’s here the story slips into a third person narrative, although the identity of the pair is not disclosed (until the very end, that is!) and while it’s pretty obvious who the man is, the woman is an altogether different matter. You may think you know but don’t be fooled. Atwood has cleverly thrown in a red herring – the fantasy/sci-fi story of Sakiel-Norn and the blind assassin.

The Blind Assassin is a beautifully written book. The pace is leisurely and finely detailed, allowing readers to savour every glorious moment – right up to the shocking conclusion. And no, I didn’t see it coming….

As for Atwood’s recollection of youthful naivity, it is matched only by her vision of old age. Why else would Iris tell younger sister Laura that a “floozie” was “a girl who chewed gum”; or lament the physical frailties of old age with such cognizance – “weak knees, arthritic knuckles, varicose veins, infirmities, indignities” when “inside our heads we carry ourselves perfect.”

In fact, her imagery is superb throughout and encompasses all manner of things, such as “an end of cheese…..hard and translucent as toenails.” How clever…

So, just how good is The Blind Assassin? It’s very good. Not only is it an enjoyable read – one probably more for the ladies – but a lesson in the forgotten art of prose.