A sense of paranoia permeates ‘The Blind Assassin’ as we explore the life of Iris Chase, from her cloistered childhood to her marriage to the villainous Richard, the novels throbs with mysteries and conspiracies, of the half-truths and fictions which surrounded the life of Iris, seen as nothing more than a vapid social dilettante and sister of the talented by troubled author Laura. The unreliability of the narration extends to the roman à clef which exists within ‘The Blind Assassin’, ostensibly these are a collection of mysterious and fantastical short stories interspersed with the real life interactions between the male author and his lover, Iris’s sister Laura. Yet, dig deeply enough and you will find that just as the mask of vapidity which Iris uses to disguise herself conceals her true personality, so the novel within the novel conceals the answer to central mystery which permeates the novel about Laura’s death and apparent suicide.
Atwood is able to depict the early 20th world of Canada with an uncanny level of acuity and brilliance. From her relatively idyllic childhood in a fictional small town, a childhood which is punctuated by the financial decline of her family and marriage to Richard. Richard is initially seen as an insipid money obsessed social climber yet, as the reader will discover later, there is something devilish and sinister which lurks beneath his exterior. In many ways the novel is about the masks which we wear in front of others; both Iris and Richard conceal their true personalities and this sense of uncertainty is central to the novel, as the reader is require to work hard to unravel the mysteries which are imbued within the story.
The entire novel feels like a treasure hunt where the truth is the prize and, when the reader eventually discovers it themselves, the recoil in horror at how gruesome it is. ‘The Blind Assassin’ is, without a doubt, Atwood’s masterpiece.