Title: The Blind Assassin
Author: Margaret Atwood
2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book that takes place in two time periods
Thoughts: As an avid reader, I find lots of books that truly move me. I also find books that I don’t like so much or books that I enjoy but don’t stick with me. There are also those books that are a bit of a mystery. I find myself reading along and not exactly connecting or being moved, but somehow for whatever reason, I am unable to stop and am left with a feeling of deep appreciation. The Blind Assassin is one of those books.
Margaret Atwood is an incredible writer. With The Handmaid’s Tale, I was captivated and terrified. I found myself caring deeply about the characters and wondering what would happen next. I couldn’t stop listening to it. With The Blind Assassin, it was different. I cared. Kind of. I wondered what would happen next. Ish. But really, I just kept reading because I found the structure and style of storytelling creative and interesting. It crosses multiple time periods to tell the tale of Iris and Laura Chase.
The story opens with newspaper articles announcing the death of Laura Chase, acclaimed author and sister of Iris Chase Griffen who is the wife of a prominent local citizen. Subsequent articles tell of the passing of Iris’s husband and mother-in-law and make reference to a sister-in-law. Laura’s death is what you could call…mysterious. She is the victim of a fatal car crash that is written off as a suicide. However, as the book goes on, it is evident Iris never believed her sister killed herself. When we meet Iris, she is an old woman, living alone and trying to get through each day of a sweltering summer. Other parts of the book are told in flashback as Iris writes her life story in anticipation of her death. She has a heart condition and knows the end is imminent, so she decides to commit her memories and the truth about her sister’s death to paper.
The book shifts between three intertwined timelines. The first is in the present with Iris as she walks to and from the donut shop, the park and her home. She attempts to keep her thoughts clear and organized as her health is deteriorating. The second timeline concerns two people I refer to as “the lovers”. There is a couple, a man and a woman, who are involved in a relationship of some kind. At first, you aren’t quite sure who they are or the nature of their relationship, but it becomes clear pretty quickly the woman is married and these two are having an affair. The man is a writer and quite the storyteller. Much of the narrative surrounding them involves a story the man is telling. The story is something that could have been a Star Trek episode. Or series of episodes. Or one of the movies. But probably the old movies with Kirk. (Shatner, not Pine). I know, I know. I’m a Picard woman myself, but I just get the feeling this would have been an old school Trek movie, not a new one. The third timeline is the story of Laura and Iris’ upbringing.
They were raised in an affluent family and Iris was married off to a super rich kind of old gross dude type when she was 18 in what amounted to a business transaction between her husband and father. #blahblahgross. I couldn’t come up with a b word for that one. It just skeeves me out and makes me happy that I live in the 21st century. Anyway, eventually, the three storylines begin to converge, although it takes like…500 pages for things to come together.
Anyway, the thing is, I wanted to find out the identity of the lovers (which I did), I wanted to know exactly how Laura died (which I did), and I wanted to stick with present day Iris until the end (which I did), but I didn’t feel connected to any of it. I didn’t feel that sadness that I feel when I finish a book that I truly love. It kind of felt like…homework. I finished the book out of curiosity and to cross it off my list.
This isn’t to say it wasn’t beautifully written. It also isn’t to say it isn’t a story worth telling. I, personally, just didn’t feel tethered to the story or the characters. I know lots of other people who did, but I think the most brilliant thing about this book is the format. I’ve read other books that use the alternating timelines format and it is really easy to fail. She doesn’t. She maintains mystery and intrigue and doesn’t spoil anything for the readers. It’s clever and creative storytelling that has a satisfying ending. I just wish I had felt a more emotional tie to the people going through this clever and creative journey. You never know though! I’d give this one a shot for the interesting idea and see if it clicks.