I am so torn on how I feel about this book. This is a story of an old woman who tells us about her life and her sister, who we find killed herself (or died accidentally) by driving off a bridge. This isn’t a spoiler. The opening line is: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge.” What unfolds is a story split between Iris (our narrator) telling the story her life and excerpts from her sister, Laura’s, “scandalous” romance novel, titled The Blind Assassin in which the male love interest tell his own story, The Blind Assassin which is a very sexist and poorly formed science fiction story. For nearly the entire book I mistook Laura’s book for her memoir of sorts. I thought it was a parallel narrative of part of Laura’s life.
Iris provides what I find the most compelling part of the story. It starts from her grandfathers perspective because his pride for his self made business plays such a pivotal role in shaping her father and his choices. This ripples through the story in a way that is representative of what make it so well told. Atwood has woven an intricate and compelling narrative about a family struggling to get by all while dealing with a stranger daughter (Laura). Atwood does an excellent job crafting a compelling story that is fairly sad and painful.
The fact that I didn’t understand the side stories were fictional (I had to google it) should tell you how this part of the book played for me. That is to say, I didn’t love it. Honestly, I didn’t mind the narrative of the wealthy woman and the hack writer; it was the long overdrawn segments of the science fiction The Blind Assassin that drove me absolutely mad. I recognize it has its merits. The dynamic between between the two characters reflects Laura’s own way of thinking about life and love. In fact, that story makes a lot more sense now that I know it was essentially a fantasy written by Laura. Still, Atwood digs into the hack writers story for so long that it just started feeling like a job. I was not enjoying it.
That sucks because I really enjoyed the main storyline. When I think about that, it is a solid 4 stars easy, but when I start to think about those parts that just drone on, I couldn’t give it that high a rating. Atwood is a more literary writer who. I knew going into this I may find the literary style difficult to connect with. Still, I am trying to read more of her books because she often has a lot to say in a novel, including this one. There are parts of this book that really didn’t work for me, but there were parts that did. I don’t regret reading it. Unfortunately, it has a lot holding it back from being a really great novel. 3.5/ 5 stars, rounding down.