As a reader, there are few pleasures greater than reading an author at (or near) the pinnacle of his or her craft. Reading Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin provides such an experience. Atwood tells the story of Iris–or lets Iris tell her story–but the novel is so artfully constructed, so deft in the way it switches from present to past and between narrative types, as to be a dazzling display of the art of the novel. Whether she is writing a diary, dialog, or a provincial news clipping, Atwood’s ear is perfect. At the same time, she gives Iris a distinctive voice. Note how she conveys the sense of aging and the betrayal of one’s body:
After having imposed itself on us like the egomaniac it is, clamouring about its own needs, foisting upon us its own sordid and perilous desires, the body’s final trick is simply to absent itself. Just when you need it, just when you could use an arm or a leg, suddenly the body has other things to do. It falters, it buckles under you; it melts away as if made of snow, leaving nothing much. Two lumps of coal, an old hat, a grin made of pebbles. The bones dry sticks, easily broken.
Atwood is aware of her own prowess at this point in her career. Iris has written a novel (though attributed to her sister) that has people calling her one of the most important Canadian writers (which is true); she has Iris note in this book that she had not succeeded in drawing her husband, Richard, as a well-rounded character (also true). This awareness is just another sign that Atwood is at the top of her craft in this novel.
Of course, Atwood needs no praise from me. She won the Booker Prize for this novel and has since won the Nobel prize. Both were deserved. But if you haven’t read The Blind Assassin, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I suspect people will be reading this novel for many years to come.