Margaret Atwood's 'The Blind Assassin,' Parts V and VI


I spent that night lying huddled and shivering in the vast bed of the hotel. My feet were icy, my knees drawn up, my head sideways on the pillow; in front of me the arctic waste of starched white bedsheet stretched out to infinity. I knew I could never traverse it, regain the track, get back to where it was warm; I knew I was directionless; I knew I was lost. I would be discovered here years later by some intrepid team - fallen in my tracks, one arm outflung as if grasping at straws, my features desiccated, my fingers gnawed by wolves.

A lot happens in the second part of The Blind Assassin. Much of this part of the narrative is spent developing the complicated relationship between Laura - the "special" Chase sister, and Iris, the dutiful and inwardly often resentful and sometimes downright mean one. In many ways, of course, it is a depiction of any ordinary relationship between siblings - but the girls find a common mission, a common purpose, and seemingly a common kindling of first love in the singular character of Alex Thomas, who they briefly hide in the attic of their home.

Alex isn't the only man who appears in this part of the story, either. During the formal dinner at the Chase home where Laura invites Alex Thomas last minute, Richard Griffen and his somewhat awful-seeming sister, Winifred, also appear. Griffen seems to pose a threat to the Chase family, at least in the view of Iris, the narrator.

The narrative structure of the story is perhaps the most intriguing thing about The Blind Assassin: it is almost as if the young Iris, who we see in flashbacks, and the current, decrepit, aged, and acerbic Iris of current times, scratching away at her notebook, are two wholly different people. The distance of time and age gives many of the events Iris recounts a haze of nostalgia, but also as if the story she is telling is about someone other than herself, even when she is clearly writing her own life. Just how reliable is Iris, anyway?