Initial Thoughts: None? I can’t really think right now! Where to begin… I was a little worried going into this 655-page monster because I was nooot a fan of Alias Grace. There, I said it. *CanLit freaks come and eat my eyeballs.* But wow. Just wow. This book is an incredibly immersive, all-consuming historical fiction that runs the gambit from so sooo funny to… so sooo tragic.
Writing/Plot: This is another one of those realllllly convoluted multi-leveled plots (a little bit a la The Princess Bride, minus the satire). At its most simple, The Blind Assassin is basically the memoirs of Iris Chase Griffen, our 83-year-old protagonist. She recalls her life in a linear series of flashbacks that eventually all converge with one another in a whoamygod twist of an ending. Fabulous prose and a clean-cut way of differentiating the story elements helps keep this monster from getting too bogged down.
The central mystery of the plot deals with Iris’ sister, Laura Chase, who committed suicide by driving her car off a bridge when she was twenty-five, in the post-WWII era. Laura’s novel, also called The Blind Assassin, is believed to be a semi-autobiographical account of her affair with a man named Alex Thomas.
The story’s complicated, so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet: 83-year-old Iris, who’s now in reduced circumstances and has a heart condition, decides to write a memoir to leave for her only grandchild, Sabrina. Through the book, though, we get to also read the book Laura wrote. The Blind Assassin within Blind Assassin is about a man and a woman having an affair. This is where it gets complicated. The man in the book in the book starts telling the woman he’s having an affair with a science-fiction story about… you guessed it, a blind assassin. The story of the blind assassin is pulp, taking place on the planet Zycron. As if these weren’t enough plot threads to handle, Atwood takes it one step further and adds in fake newspaper clippings to add verisimilitude.
If you can wrap your brain around the really complicated plot devices and the Russian-doll story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-story thing, it’s actually pretty genius. Atwood’s prose is always clear and understandable, but poetic. My favorite part (being an SF nerd in my heart) is of course the ongoing story of the blind assassin of Sakiel-Norn. I’ll admit to being bewildered by this novel, but in a good way!
Characters: Iris Chase Griffen is the key to this entire convoluted story, and she is such an amazing character. Not everything she does is admirable - but she feels so real, and it’s incredible to learn her story because she develops just like a normal human being. Her life is difficult - her mother being dead, and her father, a veteran, being the alcoholic owner of a once-prosperous button factory. At 18, she’s married off to a man named Richard Griffen, and has to tolerate his extreeeemely frustrating sister Winifred. That’s only the start of it, too.
I loved her clear-sightedness, her creativity, and her determination. Is she the strongest character? Maybe not. Is she extremely well-defined and realistic? Hell yes! And that’s what I love in a character.
Wrap-Up: Altogether, I thought this was an incredible novel. I wouldn’t recommend it to younger readers, but that all depends on your maturity level! It was complex, immersive and psychological with an amazingly detailed period setting. Not to mention that it had pretty much everything - a tragic romance, family drama, a cooky old lady, and blind assassins in outer space.
Love, love, looove.