‘The Blind Assassin’ is a first person retelling of the life of Iris Chase. A person of apparently overwhelming plainness, Iris, our narrator-protagonist, juxtaposes her childhood, her youth, her marriage and finally, her old age, in the historical timescape of Canada. Motherless, Iris and her more endearing sister Laura, rescue the young anarchist Alex Thomas who had set fire to their factory and was on the run from the law. This simple act of kindness sets off a chain of events which will have alarming consequences for both sisters. As Iris gets married to the financial rescuer of her father’s flailing button-factory, Laura distinctly drifts away. Within Iris’ narrative there lies another linear yet unfinished story, which is published in Laura’s name and attains cult status among its readers. This novel which is encased within the larger novel is also named ‘The Blind Assassin’ and is a science fiction account of the goings on of a far of planet named Zycron, as narrated by a pair of unnamed lovers who meet clandestinely in various hotels in undisclosed locations. The book which begins with a calm line reporting Laura’s death in 1945 ends with quite a few revelations, each more shocking than the other.
Set in twentieth century Canada, in the unassuming Ontario town of Port Ticonderoga, ‘The Blind Assassin’ is a novel whose plot is unfathomable without the references it provides to the local history of the time and place by way of newspaper articles. Such is Atwood’s mastery of narration, that the fictional articles which intersperse the story often (and which contain oblique mentions of our protagonists as well) far from distracting the reader act as allusions to Canadian society, and to the interesting political landscape that the country used to be.
The novel is a mise en abyme, a literary device where one story is presented within the folds of another. In addition to the attraction of the strange and otherworldly charm offered by the happenings of the novel within the novel, ‘The Blind Assassin’ is characterized by Margaret Atwood’s magical wielding of rhetorical tools. The metaphors and similies are as unfamiliar as they are relatable. The language is as reflective of the bleak mystery surrounding Iris and Laura as it is lucid and easy to grasp.
To this day ‘The Blind Assassin’ remains one of my most favourite novels. It is a unique tale of deceit, anger, betrayal and most importantly, love. The characters are all imbued with a uniqueness that makes each of them remarkable. The air in the novel keeps changing in true Atwoodian style and enables you to not only relate to its premise but to actually live it. The end surprises adequately, though reading the novel is the reward in itself. While we read, ‘Blind but sure-footed, we step forward as if into a remembered dance.’
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