“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” These words are spoken by Iris Chase Griffen, married at eighteen to a wealthy industrialist but now poor and eighty-two. Iris recalls her far from exemplary life, and the events leading up to her sister’s death, gradually revealing the carefully guarded Chase family secrets. Among these is “The Blind Assassin,” a novel that earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, it was a pulp fantasy improvised by two unnamed lovers who meet secretly in rented rooms and seedy cafés. As this novel-within-a-novel twists and turns through love and jealousy, self-sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real narrative, as both move closer to war and catastrophe. Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning sensation combines elements of gothic drama, romantic suspense, and science fiction fantasy in a spellbinding tale.
From the Hardcover edition.close this panel
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.
I was informed of the accident by a policeman: the car was mine, and they’d traced the licence. His tone was respectful: no doubt he recognized Richard’s name. He said the tires may have caught on a streetcar track or the brakes may have failed, but he also felt bound to inform me that two witnesses – a retired lawyer and a bank teller, dependable people – had claimed to have seen the whole thing. They’d said Laura had turned the car sharply and deliberately, and had plunged off the bridge with no more fuss than stepping off a curb. They’d noticed her hands on the wheel because of the white gloves she’d been wearing.
It wasn’t the brakes, I thought. She had her reasons. Not that they were ever the same as anybody else's reasons. She was completely ruthless in that way.
“I suppose you want someone to identify her,” I said. “I’ll come down as soon as I can.” I could hear the calmness of my own voice, as if from a distance. In reality I could barely get the words out; my mouth was numb, my entire face was rigid with pain. I felt as if I’d been to the dentist. I was furious with Laura for what she’d done, but also with the policeman for implying that she’d done it. A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water.
“I’m afraid there will be an inquest, Mrs. Griffen,” he said.
“Naturally,” I said. “But it was an accident. My sister was never a good driver.”
I could picture the smooth oval of Laura’s face, her neatly pinned chignon, the dress she would have been wearing: a shirtwaist with a small rounded collar, in a sober colour – navy blue or steel grey or hospital-corridor green. Penitential colours – less like something she’d chosen to put on than like something she’d been locked up in. Her solemn half-smile; the amazed lift of her eyebrows, as if she were admiring the view.
The white gloves: a Pontius Pilate gesture. She was washing her hands of me. Of all of us.
What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain. Or of the stack of cheap school exercise books that she must have hidden that very morning, in the bureau drawer where I kept my stockings, knowing I would be the one to find them.
When the policeman had gone I went upstairs to change. To visit the morgue I would need gloves, and a hat with a veil. Something to cover the eyes. There might be reporters. I would have to call a taxi. Also I ought to warn Richard, at his office: he would wish to have a statement of grief prepared. I went into my dressing room: I would need black, and a handkerchief.
I opened the drawer, I saw the notebooks. I undid the crisscross of kitchen string that tied them together. I noticed that my teeth were chattering, and that I was cold all over. I must be in shock, I decided.
What I remembered then was Reenie, from when we were little. It was Reenie who’d done the bandaging, of scrapes and cuts and minor injuries: Mother might be resting, or doing good deeds elsewhere, but Reenie was always there. She’d scoop us up and sit us on the white enamel kitchen table, alongside the pie dough she was rolling out or the chicken she was cutting up or the fish she was gutting, and give us a lump of brown sugar to get us to close our mouths. Tell me where it hurts, she’d say. Stop howling. Just calm down and show me where.
But some people can’t tell where it hurts. They can’t calm down. They can’t ever stop howling.
From the Hardcover edition.
Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa in 1939, and grew up in northern Quebec and Ontario, and later in Toronto. She has lived in numerous cities in Canada, the U.S., and Europe.
She is the author of more than forty books — novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history, and books for children. Atwood’s work is acclaimed internationally and has been published around the world. Her novels include The Handmaid’s Tale and Cat’s Eye — both shortlisted for the Booker Prize; The Robber Bride, winner of the Trillium Book Award and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award; Alias Grace, winner of the prestigious Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, the Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize and a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and Oryx and Crake, a finalist for The Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Orange Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent books of fiction are The Penelopiad, The Tent, and Moral Disorder. She is the recipient of numerous honours, such as The Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence in the U.K., the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature in the U.S., Le Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, and she was the first winner of the London Literary Prize. She has received honorary degrees from universities across Canada, and one from Oxford University in England.
Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with novelist Graeme Gibson.
From the Hardcover edition.close this panel
“The first great novel of the new millennium.”
“Margaret Atwood is one of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive.”
–Literary Review (U.K.)
“An example of a writer at the very peak of her performance.…As it delves into the kinds of relationships that can exist between men and women and the rich and poor, it becomes a compassionate and utterly honest book. It is profound and touching. It is to be treasured.”
“Atwood performs a spectacular sleight of hand, fashioning a bewitching, brilliantly layered story of how people see only what they wish to.”
“Dazzling and entertaining.…”
–Globe and Mail
“The Blind Assassin is quite simply Atwood’s most emotional, yearning, heartfelt, sexy, and elegiac book ever.”
–Quill & Quire
“Atwood has never written with more flair and versatility than in this multidimensional novel. A brilliant accomplishment.”
–Sunday Times (U.K.)
“Boldly imagined and brilliantly executed.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“There is no presence more formidably protean than Margaret Atwood’s in Canadian culture.…[The Blind Assassin] will alternately charm and beguile its readers.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
“Stories spin within stories in this spellbinding novel of avarice, love, and revenge.…”
–Booklist (U.S.) (starred review)
“A tour de force.”
“Sumptuous and compelling.….”
“The Blind Assassin is the kind of story so full of intrigue and desperation that you take it to bed with you simply because you can’t bear to put it down.…It’s one thing to write an accomplished novel; it’s another entirely to spin a tale so brilliantly that the reader internalizes it.”
“Atwood is a dazzling storyteller with a distinctive voice and an ear attuned to irony.”
–London Free Press
“Margaret Atwood is one of the greatest writers alive.…A novel of luminous prose, scalpel-precise insights and fierce characters.…[The Blind Assassin] is so assured, so elegant and so incandescently intelligent, she casts her contemporaries in the shade.”
From the Hardcover edition.close this panel