The Blind Assassin
by Margaret Atwood
Time 100 Novels, Guardian 1000 Novels, Man Booker Prize, Orange Prize
In The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood deals with the written word itself, by embedding a story within the story - the title The Blind Assassin refers to a novel-within-the-novel written by the narrator's sister Laura. And within that story, the unnamed male creates stories of his own, crafting pulp and genre tales for the amusement of his lover (presumably Laura in a roman a clef). The novel is partially about storytelling, and how fiction can shape reality.
History is fluid, as Iris, the narrator, notes: "[I]s what I remember the same thing as what actually happened? It is now; I am the only survivor." As a youth, Laura is struck by a passage in The Bible where God himself lies, giving false prophecies. Ultimately, the novel-within-the-novel The Blind Assassin is a lie, written by Iris but published under Laura's name, but that lie becomes part of the fabric of reality, as Laura is adored in death, and symbolically misquoted in graffiti in bathroom stalls. The novel is cut with newspaper article that tell the story of what happens to Iris and Laura but is misleading or incomplete. Language cannot be trusted.
Iris pens the narrative itself for reasons she doesn't fully understand, and it is unclear whether it will even be read. She sums up the unreliability of language in the following quote:
In the beginning was the word, we once believed. Did God know what a flimsy thing the word might be? How tenuous, how casually erased?