A return to great storytelling

The Blind Assassin (2000). Authored by Margaret Atwood

An established book is sometimes doubly satisfying following heaps of misogynistic material.  As appreciated in maturing wines, older Man Booker winners are safe bets.  After selecting gifted writer Margaret Atwood and her certifiably lauded book, I intend to explore her bibliography further.  Four manners of narrative weave the tapestry of The Blind Assassin, winner of Booker Prize 2000 and the International Association of Crime Writers Dashiell Hammett Award.  Even author and critic John Updike (Rabbit, Run and Couples) reviewing the novel in The New Yorker extolled this tome.  Atwood never paints the past in hazy, sentimental nostalgia.  She keeps the bite of realism and human flaws in full view.

Death of Laura, sister to the central character Iris Griffen (née Chase), draws the reader into speculation and concern.  Never showing her full hand, Atwood allows archival newspaper clippings, aging Iris in present day writing about those early days, excerpts from Laura’s posthumous publication The Blind Assassin, and drifter, exotic Alex Thomas’s tales to propel the story.  Hints by sudden language changes begin to deconstruct what the public presentation of these high profile socialites had been.  In the process, the initial supposed frailty of mind and spirit of Iris becomes transformed into a spirited rebel whose first concern had been self-preservation and provisions for her younger, odd sister Laura.  Laura’s intellect and main concerns occupied an interior world in which no one else could understand.  Her beauty and litheness attracted certain male attention that foretold collapse to the protective wealthy sheen of the Griffen household.  Throughout the novel, Iris longs to connect and tell the truth to her estranged granddaughter Sabrina.  Avenging for Richard’s death, his sister Winifred stripped sister-in-law Iris’s daughter Aimee from her in deplorable ways.

In the flashbacks via The Blind Assassin portions, particularly touching and despairing are pages where Alex Thomas and his lover share fleeting moments of bliss as nagging time and circumstances pull them away.  One paragraph resounded with agony and ecstasy for the female participant:

But in the end, back she comes.  There’s no use resisting.  She goes to him for amnesia, for oblivion.  She renders herself up, is blotted out; enters the darkness of her own body, forgets her name.  Immolation is what she wants, however briefly.  To exist without boundaries. – Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin, pp. 261

Atwood’s mastery of language and mixture of reality without dripping sentimentality make this novel a pleasure and intellectual joy to read.  The details about the story are best left to readers, but Atwood’s prose, humor, and confrontation of mortality and legacy indicate wisdom and maturity befitting legions of famous authors of yesteryear.

Full endorsement.

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