If I had to describe this book in one word it would be brilliant. It really is very, very good and I can’t recommend it enough. It was my first Atwood who I think along with Isabel Allende is my big bookish discovery of 2011. I loved the way she writes and this book drew me in instantly. How could it not? After all, the first sentence is intense: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge”.
I suppose that line sets the tone of the whole book because it is intense and hard and sad throughout and yet written in a very simple, clean way. The narrator, Iris, now a very old woman, is remembering her life with her sister, and it is an intriguing tale. Knowing that Laura dies right from the start only made reading the book more exciting, I was constantly trying to guess what happened to lead to that tragic event.
Iris is not a particularly likeable character, at least for me. She has redeeming qualities, like how people always thought she ought to protect Laura and how pressured that made her feel, and the fact that she is dying of course made me sympathetic towards her. But I still can’t get over how apathetic and passive and lacking in courage she was. It seems to me that she lived her life letting things just happen to her, not really ever taking action and doing what she knew was right.
What I loved most about this book is that there is a story within the story. Interwoven with Iris’ memoirs is the novel called The Blind Assassin, that is attributed to Laura and was published after her death. Inside that book is yet another story, one set in a different world and actually involves a blind assassin. The succession of chapters from these books gradually reveals what happened to the sisters in a genius way that kept me hooked.
A few passages that I liked:
“Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence.”
“More and more I feel like a letter – deposited here, collected there. But a letter addressed to no one.”
“… I spent the interval reclining on the parlour sofa, like some vaporous heroine who’s been forgotten in the pages of her own book and left to yellow and mildew and crumble away like the book itself.”
EDIT: Just yesterday I read a post by Kristie where she mentioned she wants to read The Penelopiad. I immediately made a note to hunt this down at the library, I’m very keen to read more of Atwood’s books. Has anyone read this?