Wednesday, April 25, 2012

THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood

The intriguing title belies a slow-paced melancholy novel about two privileged sisters, Iris and Laura Chase.  Iris narrates, since we learn early on that Laura died in a possibly suicidal car crash at the age of 25.  This is actually a book within a book, and there's even a third-level sci fi story in there, too.  Iris is now in her 80's with a heart condition and recounts her life as the daughter of a button factory owner in a small town near Toronto.  The factory and the family fortune are consumed by the Great Depression, and Iris is married off to Richard Griffen, a wealthy older man whose sister manages his affairs.  Scattered throughout are chapters from Laura's cult-classic novel, The Blind Assassin, that Iris published posthumously.  This more beguiling story tells of a well-to-do married woman having an affair with a Communist sympathizer on the run, who is also a sci-fi comic book writer.  The man in Laura's book is obviously reminiscent of Alex Thomas, a young man whom Laura and Iris hid in the attic after he was involved in the burning of the button factory.  Atwood manages to keep a lot of balls in the air at once, and the twist at the end is somewhat gratifying, though not sufficient to warrant the long journey to get there.

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