"It's loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward," writes Margaret Atwood, towards the end of her impressive and complex new novel, The Blind Assassin
. It's a melancholic account of why writers write--and readers read--and one that frames the different lives told through this book. The Blind Assassin
is (at least) two novels. At the end of her life, Iris Griffen takes up her pen to record the secret history of her family, the romantic melodrama of its decline and fall between the two World Wars. Conjuring a world of prosperity and misery, marriage and loneliness, the central enigma of Iris's tale is the death of her sister, Laura Chase, who "drove a car off a bridge" at the end of the Second World War. Suicide or accident? The story gradually unfolds, interspersed with sketches of Iris's present-day life--confined by age and ill-health--and a second novel, The Blind Assassin
by Laura Chase. Allowing a glimpse into a clandestine love affair between a privileged young woman and a radical "agitator" on the run, this version of The Blind Assassin
is an overt act of seduction: the exchange of sex and story about an imaginary world of Sakiel-Norn (a play with the potential, and convention, of fantasy and sci-fi).
With the intelligence, subtlety and remarkable characterisation associated with Atwood's writing (from her first novel, The Edible Woman through to the best-selling Alias Grace), these two stories play with one another--sustaining an uncertainty about who has done what to who and why to the very end of this compelling book. --Vicky Lebeau
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From Publishers Weekly
Atwood's Booker Prize–winning novel, with its 1930s setting and stories within stories, is well suited to audio dramatization. O'Brien has simplified and streamlined the structure so that it jumps around in time less and makes clearer parallels between past, present and the whimsical internal novel. Some dialogue has been added, while many meditative and descriptive sections are absent, but the new words blend gracefully with Atwood's own, and her elegant style remains intact despite the omissions. Abundant sound effects make the production much richer than many audiobooks; it sometimes seems like a movie without the visuals, with chirping birds, clinking silverware and the murmur of crowds filling in the background. Music that alternates between a lovely, slightly melancholy theme and an ominous one, helps highlight the shifts from the protagonist Iris's personal history to her retelling of the novel. The skills of the cast almost make such extras unnecessary: the three women who play Iris at different ages capture her brilliant but frustrated spirit perfectly, while the actresses for her troubled younger sister, Laura, find just the right blend of dreaminess and defiance. Though in some respects this adaptation is less intricate than the rather complicated original, the condensation serves it well, making the story more tightly wound and intense in a way that should attract listeners who may be put off by Atwood's writing. (Sept.)
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