The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
MAYBE A SPOILER ALERT: It is not my intention to give away any of the important plot points in this novel and so I won’t, but at the heart of this book is a mystery and I’d feel pretty bad about giving unintentional clues, so judge for yourself if you want to continue.
I know I said I was staying away from novels with war in them, but I found The Blind Assassin in the good ol’ Town Library and had to take the opportunity before I ended up at University again. The B A is not really about war, although a story revolving around the lives of a prominent Canadian family spanning the entire 20th century has to deal with the two most catastrophic events of that period, so there is quite a bit of war talk, people going to war, people staying behind and general war-liked unpleasantness. The book doesn’t really span the entire 20th century. There is a lengthy catch-up of the Chase family history 1900-1916, then the story hits upon its major players, sisters, Laura and Iris. The majority of the book plays out in the gap between the wars as told by the elder sister alive in Port Ticonderoga, Canada, 1998. So, almost like the whole century.
If there’s one thing I enjoy in a novel, it is an invitation to solve a mystery. Smack out of the gate the Assassin plops a mystery in your lap. “Just Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge.” That’s line one. This is not going to be a cheery novel. An invitation is extended the reader to solve this mystery. At your disposal are three types of information: The memoirs of the Iris, newspaper clippings concerning the events of the lives of the sisters and chapters from the titular The Blind Assassin, a novel written by Laura Chase and supposedly providing details about her life. Not to give you an impression that this is some sort of cerebral exercise, some sort of literary Cluedo; the mystery unrolls in a pretty much normal manner, but throughout there is the knowledge of the death to come. Mmmm, that’s a great sentence. And so my little mind whirred and ticked all the while trying to figure out the puzzle of why Laura Chase seemingly committed suicide. Who is the mystery man in the novel? Why did Iris’ husband (apparently) kill himself a few years after Laura’s death? I was pretty chuffed with myself at unravelling the mystery about half way through the novel, so it came as something of a surprise when the book flat out told me that it wasn’t really impressed that I’d figured out something so blindingly obvious and that that was blatantly not all folks, so keep reading, you pompous pseudo-literate lemming. Or something of that nature. Anyway, there was more than one twist in the tail.
The book is great fun. The three different sections of the book are all complementary and entertaining (being a bit of a science fiction geek, I enjoyed the planet Zycron adventures a bit more than most), the characters are great and eccentric with some truly disturbing moments (“Why did you paint my face blue in this picture? ‘Cause you where asleep” trust me, its scarier when you read it) There’s a little bit of sex, but it’s nothing a little judicious paragraph skipping won’t protect you from. All in all, a good read and only one war orphan.
The Blind Assassin is ranked #65 on the Exclusive Books 101 Books to Read Before you Die.