With the Booker nomination for Testaments , I picked up The Blind Assassin as my first read for my Booker project . Dystopia is not my genre and so I didn’t pick up The Handmaid ‘ s Tale . Now , I guess I have to give a shot at dystopia too with The Testaments ‘ split – win . . .
Plot summary :
Iris Griffen – Chase , the narrator is reminiscing about her life until the suicide of her younger sister Laura at the age of 25 . Iris published Laura ‘ s The Blind Assassin posthumously which had its own repercussions for Iris . Interspersed in Iris ‘s narrative are the chapters from Laura ‘ s scandalous debut`, where two illicit lovers amuse themselves during their secret trysts by telling a story about the eponymous Blind Assassin . Through Iris ‘ s narrative and the narrative in TBA , we come to know about the Chase family and the secrets it holds today . . .
My thoughts on the book :
The title of the book intrigued me from the start . Why would Atwood name a book after a roman a clef in the book was my question . On the surface , there is no significance to the title beyond it being the title of Laura ‘ s book . But as I read the book , a thought occurred whether the title might be a reference to one of the characters in the book . I wanted to identify the character for whom the possible – sobriquet title is the best fit . ( Am I getting the word correctly ? Or is it something else ? )
I did not have to look too far or read too much between the lines to identify who The Blind Assassin might be . My idea is that Iris Chase – Griffen , the octogenarian narrator is the best fit for the term The Blind Assassin , whose actions inadvertently led to the demise of her sister Laura . While she herself recounts being blamed for her husband ‘ s death by her sister – in -law , she does not seem to recognize her role in her sister ‘ s death or if she does , she does not say anything to that effect . Perhaps she did not want to incriminate herself when there are several other external factors which also had a role in Laura ‘ s death . The latter scenario is the most probable one . But I would say , while there were other factors too , they would not have pushed Laura over the edge if only she had had a sympathetic elder sister to turn to in times of distress – at the very least , for moral support if not for anything else .
But Iris is not the typical ” the – second – mother ” elder sister that literature is often fond of portraying elder sisters as – she is somewhat of an antithesis to the above said elder sister . And that is where the problem lies . Let me point out the instances when Iris could have redeemed the situation with some fundamental concern which one stranger might show to another when he discerns some cause for it with the other ‘ s situation . Any reader knowing Iris around page 100 or so , would know better than to expect more of her .
Iris has always known that Laura was not happy with her marriage to Griffen . Iris is always somewhat careful not to prod too deep into Laura ‘ s emotions afraid of what she might have to deal with , understandably given Laura ‘ s ” sensitive ” nature . But , one would expect her to lend atleast a sympathetic ear when Laura turns to her for some comfort in times of distress . While Iris seemingly does the above all , we get to read about her true feelings underneath all those mandatory gestures and it ‘ s somewhat sickening . Surely , can ‘ t a younger sister count upon a shoulder to lean on from the elder one ?
She cried then , and I put my arms around her , the time – worn gesture from when she was little . Just stop howling . If I ‘d had a lump of brown sugar I would have given it to her , but we were past the brown – sugar stage by then . Sugar was not going to help .
Some readers might say that Iris was not in a position to acknowledge the truth in Laura ‘ s words about their new life in the Griffen home and to act decisively about it ( of which Iris says she did not realize the true colors of Richard and Winifred !!! ) . While that argument can be accepted to a certain extent , one cannot accept Iris ‘ callousness towards Laura ‘ s feelings and fears . We don ‘ t see several such exchanges ( forget confidences . . . ) between the sisters which is also indicative of how close the sisters are. Perhaps , during the early days , following her father ‘ s death and subsequent removal to the Griffen house only Laura reached out to her more . But Iris ‘ response effectively stopped Laura from confiding in her . . .
What makes Iris ‘ negligence appalling is that she expects Laura to also be satisfied the same way she is satisfied with the new life – the riches , the balls , the high – society which their father ‘ s precarious finances and old – fashioned ways had not introduced them to . Now that she has got the money also to spend , along with the prominent family name , Iris ,is too busy enjoying her life . She never gives a thought to Laura ‘ s increasingly erratic behavior . It looked like she was satisfied handing over the responsibility of the guardianship of a younger sibling to anyone who would be willing to take it off her hands – think about the meeting with the head mistress for instance . . . We know how this arrangement played out in the Griffen household : with an unconcerned / pushover elder sister who is keen only in looking out for herself , the Griffen siblings had the opportunity to dictate the aspects of Laura ‘ s life too much which they did . Remember the time , when Winifred decided that Laura can volunteer for the organization which did hospital visits ? And the plans for the debut ?
But the scene which took this indifference a notch higher is the one Iris unquestioningly accepts Richard ‘ s & Winifred ‘ s words about what happened with Laura . Iris ‘ tears when she gets the news of Laura ‘ s confinement seem to be like the tears of an actress playing a part of a damsel in distress : a few tears in the white handkerchief , some sniffs and then nothing . If one remembers Iris ‘ s mourning for her father , the tears for Laura can be seen as a huge improvement . [ If I remember correctly there were some questions about why Richard had concealed her father’s death from her and there were no more once Richard gave his sugar-coated dismissive answers . ]
One would expect Iris to be more careful about what she tells Laura especially after her ordeal at the asylum . Iris ‘ s words indicate that even she saw the need but still she goes ahead and says the last thing that Laura would want to hear – that her sacrifice was in vain . Those words sapped out any hope of a life she looked forward to ” after the war ” and later , the same day , she drove the car off the bridge .
I have picked out only certain instances to illustrate my reasons for picking out Iris among all the characters for the dubious distinction of being the blind assassin . If you pick up the book you are sure to pick out other scenes which drive home the point .
You would not need one more new reader of Atwood to come up with the same boring words – beautiful , intelligent to describe her writing . Atwood ‘ s writing impressed me with the innovative narrative techniques like the newspaper articles , the graffiti , the roman a clef and a lot more .
And here are some of my favorite passages –
. . . Beginnings are sudden , but also insidious . They creep up on you sideways , they keep to the shadows , they lurk unrecognized . Then , later , they spring .
. . . A lot of clothes , the styles and colors outmoded now , shed butterflies ‘ wings . A lot of dinners , not always very good ones . Breakfast , picnics , ocean voyages , costume balls , newspapers , boating on the river . Such items do not assort very well with tragedy . But in life , a tragedy is not one long scream . It includes everything that led up to it . Hour after trivial hour , day after day , year after year , and then the sudden moment : the knife stab , the shell-burst , the plummet of the car from the bridge . . .
Drowned now – the tree as well , the sky , the wind , the clouds . All she has left is the picture . Also the story of it . The picture is of happiness , the story not . Happiness is a garden walled with glass : no way in or out . In Paradise there are no stories , because there are no journeys . It ‘ s loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward , along its twisted road .
If you have any thoughts on the above post , please do share them in the comments section below .
If you have not picked up the book , I would urge you to pick up this book definitely . I hope the plot summary intrigued you sufficiently enough . . . If you had already read the book , what do you think of picking out Iris Chase – Griffen as the Blind Assassin ? Or do you have another character in the book who would be better suited for the sobriquet ?