The Blind Assassin

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The Blind Assassin
Novel the blind assassin cover.jpg
First edition cover
Author Margaret Atwood
Country Canada
Language English
Genre Historical fiction
Publisher McClelland and Stewart
Publication date
September 2, 2000
Media type Print (paperback and hardback), audio-CD
Pages 536pp
ISBN 0-385-47572-1
OCLC 45202107
813/.54 21
LC Class PR9199.3.A8 B55 2000c

The Blind Assassin is a novel by the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. It was first published by McClelland and Stewart in 2000. Set in Canada, it is narrated from the present day, referring back to events that span the twentieth century.

The work was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2000 and the Hammett Prize in 2001. It was also nominated for Governor General's Award in 2000, Orange Prize for Fiction, and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002.[1] Time magazine named it the best novel of 2000 and included it in its list of the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel centres on the protagonist, Iris Chase, and her sister Laura, who grow up well-off but motherless in a small town in Southern Ontario. As an old woman, Iris recalls the events and relationships of her childhood, youth and middle age, including her unhappy marriage to Toronto businessman Richard Griffen. The book includes a novel within a novel, a roman à clef attributed to Laura but published by Iris. It is about Alex Thomas, a politically radical author of pulp science fiction who has an ambiguous relationship with the sisters. That embedded story itself contains a third tale, the eponymous Blind Assassin, a science fiction story told by Alex's fictional counterpart to the second novel's protagonist, believed to be Laura's fictional counterpart.

The novel takes the form of a gradual revelation illuminating both Iris' youth and her old age before coming to the pivotal events of her and Laura's lives around the time of the Second World War. As the novel unfolds, and the novel-within-a-novel becomes ever more obviously inspired by real events, we learn that it is Iris, not Laura, who is the novel-within-a-novel's true author and protagonist. Though the novel-within-a-novel had long been believed to be inspired by Laura's romance with Alex, it is revealed that The Blind Assassin was written by Iris based on her extramarital affair with Alex. Iris later published the work in Laura's name after Laura committed suicide upon learning of Alex's death in the war. Following the suicide, Iris realizes through her sister's journals that Richard had been raping Laura for much of their marriage, blackmailing her to comply with him by threatening to turn Alex into the authorities. Iris takes her young daughter Aimee and flees her home, threatening to reveal that Richard had impregnated Laura and forced an abortion on her. This move estranges Iris from the last people who were supporting her, and creates bitterness between her and the grown Aimee. Iris deceives Richard into believing that Laura was the one having an affair with Alex Thomas, which drives him to commit suicide. The novel ends as Iris dies, leaving the truth to be discovered in her unpublished autobiography that she leaves to her sole surviving granddaughter.

The book is set in the fictional Ontario town of Port Ticonderoga and in the Toronto of the 1930s and 1940s. It is a work of historical fiction with the major events of Canadian history forming an important backdrop. Greater verisimilitude is given by a series of newspaper articles commenting on events and on the novel's characters from a distance.

Main characters[edit]

  • Iris Chase Griffen: The narrator and protagonist of the tale.
  • Laura Chase: Iris' sister, whose suicide opens the book and who is named as the author of the novel within.
  • Richard E. Griffen: Iris's ruthless, older husband with political ambitions.
  • Winifred Griffen Prior: Iris' fashionable, manipulative, and social-climbing sister-in-law.
  • Alex Thomas: A young author with Communist sympathies who has an affair with Iris and is one of the protagonists in the novel within.
  • Cpt. Norval Chase: The father of Iris and Laura. After being seriously injured in World War I and later widowed, he begrudgingly runs the family button business while descending into alcoholism and depression.
  • Reenie: The loyal Chase family housekeeper who becomes like a mother to Iris and Laura.
  • Myra Sturgess: Reenie's daughter, who later aids Iris in her old age.

Reception[edit]

Thomas Mallon reviewing the book for the New York Times was unimpressed, calling the book "overlong and badly written".[3] Adam Mars-Jones writing for the Guardian was less negative but described it as a "romantic tale" with political elements bolted on.[4]

Despite this, the work was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2000 and the Hammett Prize in 2001. It was also nominated for Governor General's Award in 2000, Orange Prize for Fiction, and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002.[5] Time magazine named it the best novel of 2000 and included it in its list of the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Disgrace
Booker Prize recipient
2000
Succeeded by
True History of the Kelly Gang