Fashion Book: The Blind Assassin
I’d never read anything by Atwood before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up loving this book. It’s got intrigue and romance and plot twists and old world glamour. It’s got Communists and Nazis and capitalists and suicides and secrets.
The book begins with the stories of the Chase sisters, Iris and Laura, daughters of an Ontario industrial family that’s fallen on hard times following WWI. As the action unfolds, we learn that Laura, a famous author, drove her car off a bridge in 1945, leaving older sister Iris to pick up the pieces of her mysterious death. The book is told half in Iris’ point of view, as an old woman looking back, and half in The Blind Assassin, a novel-within-a-novel. The book is suspenseful, and the ending isn’t quite what anyone would expect.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the way in which you got a sense of the time period from Atwood’s vivid descriptions. She doesn’t skimp on the details, including clothing. She uses style to set the place and characters. For instance, we meet Winifred, Iris’ sister-in-law in this description: “…youngish, thin, stylish, trailing diaphanous orange-tinted muslin like the steam from a watery tomato soup. Her picture hat was green, as were her high-heeled slingbacks and a wispy scarf affair she’d draped around her neck. She was overdressed for the picnic.”
My favorite description, though, is of Callie Fitzsimmons, a young artist who becomes involved with Iris and Laura’s father:
“For this evening she wore a jersey dress the colour of a duster–taupe was the name of this colour, she’d told us; it was French for mole. On anyone else it would have looked like a droopy bag with sleeves and a belt, but Callie managed to make it seem the height, not of fashion or chic exactly–this dress implied that such things were beneath notice–but rather of something easy to overlook, but sharp, like a common kitchen implement–an ice pick, say–just before the murder. As a dress, it was a raised fist, but in a silent crowd.”