Joolie lent me this copy of Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin (2000) after I raved so much about liking books with interesting structures like The Cloud Atlas. As always, Joolie was right on target with what I might like.
"The Blind Assassin" in The Blind Assassin is the title of a posthumously published novel by Laura Chase -- a woman who drives off a bridge and dies at the age of 25 on the first page of our book. Our narrator, Iris Chase, is Laura's older sister, and she had the book published after Laura's death. This book follows a young upper-class woman who is having an affair with a fascinatingly poor writer who is wanted by the police for his work with the labor unions. As they lay in bed together, the man spins a science fiction story about the blind assassins for his lover. The Blind Assassin alternates between sections of Laura Chase's novel, the current musings of the elderly Iris, and Iris's memoir of she and Laura's parallel lives.
The structure is obviously the star here, and Atwood expertly intertwines the different facets of the story, perfectly wrapping up all the loose strings by the end. The ending is a little predictable, but it hid itself long enough to be satisfying when it occurred to me. Beyond the structure we have Atwood's cold, distancing, unknowable, and fragile characters (and I mean all that in a good way). Our narrator, the character through whom we see everyone else, is tragically disconnected from everyone else in her life, and because of this distance, we can't ever know the other characters very well. And most of them come off as people I would prefer not to know anyway.
Part of the reason I think I responded so much to this book is that at its core it's about sisters -- I have two sisters (and no brothers) and sister stories have always gotten to me. The relationship between Iris and Laura is an exaggerated version of that combination of closeness and distance that any sisters share -- they are the people that are most like you and that you know better than anyone in the world, while at the same time being even more unknowable than a perfect stranger. This simultaneous closeness and distance between Iris and Laura drives the action of the book to its inevitably tragic (but ultimately satisfying) conclusion.