The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin – Seal Books 2001

Read from December 29th 2013 to January 16th 2014

My rating 5/5 stars


Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.

One of those books you feel like reading again the very moment you finished it. On of those books that keep you lingering around, replete with a voluptuous sadness. One of those books that give a new meaning of Art as atonement and catharsis. One of those books.

I agree with my friend who observed in her review that the characters are not consistent; of course they aren’t, Iris is not able to scrutinize the others, how could she? she’s blind – they are for her only Chinese shadows, there, but incomprehensible and it is ironic that both her parents made her promise she would be her sister’s keeper when the only guardian angel, hers, is Laura. Laura who tries to talk her out of marriage with Richard, Laura who sacrifices herself for the life of Iris’s lover, Laura who in the end gives up on her: 

The white gloves : a Pontius Pilate gesture. She was washing her hands of me. Of all of us.

But does she? Her death awakens Iris who renounces at her identity and transforms Laura in legend – this is her expiation: to erase herself, to replace herself with the worthy one. Unlike Briony of McEwan’s Atonement, she doesn’t change the truth to appease reality, she only changes the voice until even she doesn’t know whose voice is anymore: 

Laura didn’t write a word. Technically that’s accurate, but in another sense – what Laura would have called the spiritual sense – you could say she was my collaborator. The real author was neither of us: a fist is more than the sum of its fingers. 

The authorship issue, again brilliantly confused either in the construction of the story and the story itself. A story that at first seems reading as two, in two different voices: an old one, going slowly and drudgingly on the heart-breaking trip down memory lane, because she wants her granddaughter to finally learn the truth, but also because 

…unshed tears can turn you rancid. So can memory. So can biting your tongue. My bad nights were beginning. I couldn’t sleep. 

The other voice is young and telling The Blind Assassin story, which also contains the story of the blind assassin among others, in the same Scheherazade way that keeps love alive while it keeps talking: 

Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth. This is how the girl who couldn’t speak and the man who couldn’t see fell in love. 

But soon it becomes obvious there is only a story, made by many, only a voice, made by many. It is the impaired photo which haunts the book and the characters that hints at the complicated technique of the narrative: the couple (the main conflict), the hand (the leitmotiv of the novel, symbolizing both protection and creation) and of course the watcher (of the photo, of the story, of the creation). The two Authors, Laura and Iris, that seemed shortly to be one, become in fact three, because of course it’s Sabrina who gathers all information that corroborates the story: 

The photo has been cut; a third of it has been cut off. In the lower left corner there’s a hand, scissored of at the wrist, resting on the grass. It’s the hand of the other one, the one who is always in the picture whether seen or not. The hand that will set things down. 

And Sabrina is us, free to shed tears over the tragic story, free to marvel over the exceptional writing. Free to identify with the story, free to tamper with the writing, free to become its Authors, too:

…I leave myself in your hands. What choice do I have? By the time you read this last page, that – if anywhere – is the only place I will be.


Overall, a must-read my friends, a must-read.

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