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The power of the unsaid,
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Hardcover)
One way to appraoch this extraordinary novel would be from the perspective of all that is not said. The narrator of the "Iris" sections sets herself the task to tell, thruthfully, the sad history of her family. As she progresses, however, she is forced to admit that she is leaving vital parts of the narrative out, as if they are just too painful to put into words. Even this she never fully admits to, as she repeatedly tries to relate events without becoming too involved. Yet she consistently fails in this attempt. By the end of the novel, when the "revelation" comes, most readers will have already guessed at it, but Iris herself chooses to leave out the details.
Underlying this untold story is the recurring image of a photograph cut in two. The photograph shows a man and a woman together, but where it has been cut, a disembodied hand intrudes. It is this hand, we come to realize, which is the true narrator.
Much has been said about the structural difficulties of this novel. Atwood's elliptical approach to the narrative might indeed seem to be a difficulty, but it is herein that the true greatness of the novel lies: the "novel within the novel", i.e. Laura Chase's "The Blind Assassin" harbours within it another novel, namely the science fiction story of the planet Zycron. Here mystical forces and wondrous beings engage in their struggles. These three narratives are interspersed by newspaper articles. All in all it is a tangled web. Through this tangled web, however, the reader is able to piece together the story Iris is not willing to tell. Without the complicated structure most of the meaning of the novel would have been lost.
It is, above everything else, one of the most complete and compelling accounts of the complicated business we call "life" I have ever read. As such, a mere retelling of the story would be futile. Using all her powers as both novelist and poet, Atwood has given us an insight into the essence of living against all odds. The imagery is often startlingly evocative, as the wry observations of the ageing Iris is juxtaposed with the raw sexaulity of the anoymous lovers from Laura's novel, which is again juxtaposed with the alternatively magical, cruel, beautiful and sad imagery of the science fiction story.
The novel leaves one emotionally drained. Often provoking out-loud laughter and often eliciting wry smiles, it remains a desperately sad work about loss and unfulfilled promise. It is a giant of a book and without any doubt one of the greatest novels I have ever read.