Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fiction

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fiction

Article excerpt

Title: The Blind Assassin

Author: Margaret Atwod

Data: Doubleday, 521 pages, $26

Review by Polly Paddock Gossett

Thankfully, for her legions of fans, Margaret Atwood never does anything halfway. Her splendid novels -- The Handmaid's Tale, Cat's Eye and Alias Grace among them -- are big, bold works that display Atwood's remarkable abilities as a storyteller, her strikingly original writing, her sardonic wit.

Now, in her 10th novel, the Canadian writer has come up with another stunner. The Blind Assassin is an ambitious book that unfolds at a breathtaking pace.

Atwood's first novel in four years tells the tale of sisters Iris and Laura Chase. Growing up in Canada in the early 1900s, they are the daughters of a prosperous button factory owner. Atwood covers more than a century of Canadian history -- late 19th century industrialization, World War I, the Depression, World War II, the postwar years to the present -- through the story of one family.

Most of the novel is in the form of a memoir written by the now-elderly Iris.

But interspersed with her narrative are chapters from a novel published under Laura's name after her death -- also called The Blind Assassin and telling the story of an affair between an unnamed socialite and her unnamed socialist lover.

Interspersed with those chapters are segments of an eerie science-fiction tale the socialist spins for his lover in one cheap rented room after another.

If it sounds confusing, it isn't.

Atwood juggles her stories so deftly that even as you're reading one, you yearn to find out what's happened in the others.

As Iris notes, getting at the truth isn't simple -- "the living bird is not its labeled bones." But the truth eventually emerges through Atwood's artfully tangled plot lines.

The book opens starkly. "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge," Iris Chase Griffen, Atwood's narrator, tells us. "Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens. …

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