Thoughts on The Blind Assassin after re-reading it

The last time I wrote something here was when I’d just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. Since then I’ve been re-reading the novel, read her short story Happy Endings, as well as some other amazing short stories by writers like Alice Munro, Kate Chopin, John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway and a few others as well. I’ve also been reading Elif Shafak’s The Flea Palace (more on that in the next blog).

In my previous post on my experience of reading The Blind Assassin I wrote that from my second reading of the book I was hoping to learn more about the intricate plot points, and subtleties that I’d missed during my first reading. I’m happy to report that I really do understand the novel better now that I’ve read it right to the end already so I know what is happening. Based on that knowledge I’m able to perceive what happens in the earlier parts of the story. For one, I now know that the unnamed woman and man – who, it is apparent from the beginning, are clearly embroiled in an illicit relationship with each other – are actually the main narrator Iris Griffen nee Chase, and Alex Thomas, probably the only man with whom the narrator and her sister Laura could have had a certain romantic and/or physical attraction for.

Second, I’ve also understood that the entire narrative has three distinctive parts to it. It’s as if the plot moves in three different sections of Time and Space.

One plotline is the older Iris who has returned to the town – or village, if you may – of her birth and is now permanently established there. She is writing an account of her past life, a memoir. She doesn’t specify any agenda that she might have in writing her autobiography. One might assume that she might be trying to leave something to her granddaughter Sabrina, from whom she has been estranged for a long time, so the young lady might be able to reach a reconciliation with her grandmother. There you have a hint of a serious family conflict. When Iris talks of Sabrina you can sense her desperation to reconcile with the only living memory of her daughter Aimee who was taken away from her when she was a child. The sense of desperation is also heightened because Iris has been diagnosed with a weak heart presumably caused by old age. She has resigned herself to her impending demise and talks about it in her chronicles, too. But she also despairs when she thinks about the possibility that she might die before she has had a chance to complete her account of her life.

The second narrative is the story of Iris’ childhood spent in Port Ticonderoga and at Avilion, her family home, and her subsequent marriage. This is where we get to know her sister, Laura.

The third storyline comprises the clandestine meetings of an unnamed couple. It also involves a telling of a science-fiction story about a city on a distant planet, its people, its temple and the guild of the blind assassins.

One thing I haven’t been able to understand yet is the significance of the novel’s title. I’m hoping that my current re-reading of the book will enlighten me on this. If not this time, maybe this will occur on my next reading of the story.

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