Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

An old woman acerbically ponders her tragic life

This novel is about the life of Iris Chase Griffen, told in bits and pieces, narrative chunks.  The story begins with a fusillade of three deaths, proceeding in alternating sections to tell the tale of Iris’s early life as a sheltered rich girl in Port Ticonderoga (the other Ticonderoga thank you), fragments from a strange fantastical tale a man tells a woman during their Toronto assignations, and scenes from Iris’s elderly life as she views her garden through the changing Canadian seasons.

This book was difficult to read quickly because I wanted to savor each sentence.  Though this was the third time I had read this novel, the prose seemed more beautiful than ever.  The rhythms of the short sentences are amazing. The humor comes from the fancy pants high lyrical voice contrasted with the deadpan rhythm of the deflating commonplace phrases. I loved the right hand/left hand imagery.

The insights into human nature aren’t that spectacular, but the narrative tricks sort of are. This is a Romance with a capital R.  The plot is intricate, and can support a lot, but sags a little with the energetic yet cartoonish villainy of the brother and sister, Richard and Winifred.   The last fifth is both baggy and rushed.  Iris’s motivations are a little hard to figure out. She's very passive.  Laura, Iris’s sister, seems more Aspergery than tragic, but that’s probably the point.  Perhaps ultimately love stories have small stakes.

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