The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood fulfilled the “Book about Family” category of the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge. The novel spanned the life of the protagonist, Iris Chase, from her childhood until her eighties. The story explored her immediate family, her husband, her in-laws, and her own family of daughter and granddaughter. I will spoil big here because I don’t think I can talk about the book without sharing all.
Let’s talk format first.
Atwood is a genius. Her books, though not happy, skippy trips in the park, have profound messages that make you think. In The Blind Assassin, she completed this with an oddly formatted book. She went back and forth in time but also in and out of a novel with another novel. If the average author had taken on such a challenge, the book would have been schizophrenic. But it’s Atwood, so the technique was amazing. I kinda wish I had read the paperback rather than listen, just to see how she structured the chapters. Even with the audio, I kept up with the story and knew when and where we were at all times. Using this “in and out” method, she achieved her goal, shocking the reader at the end.
I respect Margaret Atwood as a writer. I read The Handmaid’s Tale about twenty years ago and loved it. But The Blind Assassin did not sit as well with me. I’m a genre reader—romance, cozy mysteries, series. Usually, my novels have a character (at least one) that I love, sympathize with, and can relate to. I did not find such a character which made the book less enjoyable.
Iris, the protagonist (for lack of a better description), came across as cold, selfish, self-absorbed. I didn’t like her one bit. She was passive, her whole life, horribly passive. It sounded as if she let the entire world flow over her without leaving a single mark. Yes, the ending changed that, but I still didn’t feel it.
The whole book seemed to be “poor Iris.” Everyone felt bad for her because these things happened to her. But she never acted, and even when she made a play at acting, it fell short. I know the end of the book should change all our feelings for her when she reveals that she wrote Laura’s book. But right before she tells it, there is a statement out Rennie, her long-time mother figure.
In the narrative, she’s writing a long letter to Maura, Rennie’s daughter. At the end of the narrative, she mentions how Rennie helped her once again, but how she died right when Iris needed her most. The words she uses are “such an inconvenient time.” I almost “threw the book” at that point. I wanted to delete the audio and not finish the last 20-30 minutes of the story. Because that woman was a huge mother figure in her life, and Iris had no emotion about the woman’s death. Other than the “bad” timing.
The book is rich with images, history, and family play, but I read this for the wrong category. There were no family relationships here. Just manipulation and selfishness. There was little caring, understanding, little conflict or drama. The story Iris tells is one long, old lady story sans emotion. Families come in all shapes and sizes and yes, this is a great example of a dysfunctional one. But man, I would have like to see Iris act, to react to fight for something in her life. She didn’t even fight for her daughter. And I just can’t conceive that at all.
Being that it’s Atwood, and the book is well-constructed, well-written, and lengthy, I won’t trash it any further. By the way, the story within a story was amazing and I wish I had read that book.
I give The Blind Assassin three blank eyes.