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27 October 2011

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

In Margaret Atwood's novel which takes place in the fictional town of Port Ticonderoga outside of Toronto, the characters are mostly practical people who don't talk about feelings or love and barely seem to recognize these as existing. Yet, underneath this surface, feelings kept at bay wound and burn and, by the end of the novel, the reader feels the effect of emotions bared raw. Once again, Atwood uses various textual tools to shape her fictional Canada. The novel has three fictions residing within it: Iris Chase writing her autobiography, the novel The Blind Assassin, and the science fiction story told by Alex Thomas. In fact, Atwood uses a highly talented writer as her main character, just as she does in Alias Grace, who actually is either writer or collaborator to all the texts. Also included are the newspaper articles written by Elwood Murray -- all glosses or editorials. Once again, Atwood, as in Alias Grace, ponders our capability for knowing or finding truth. As Iris struggles to make sense of her history, her efforts are complicated by the falsity around her. As important as the included text is to the novel,text that is is omitted -- the letters, telegrams, information that is withheld -- is as important as the text included -- it ominously shapes events. Laura's reality reminds me of the clarity in a Sylvia Plath poem -- burning too brightly for many of us to touch. Finally, as the "older woman...with hair like burning spiderwebs," Iris, is the only person left capable of stating things as they are, or at least finally exploring them after a life of denial. Atwood's tale becomes a warning for young women - women whom Iris does not pity as she does not pity herself.

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