Since I started Cannonball Read, I’ve tended to think, to varying degrees, about what I might write in a review as I’ve read each book. I didn’t do that much with this one, which I think is a testament to how engrossing it was. The main narrative frame is from the perspective of Iris Griffen (née Chase), a widowed woman in her 80s who has a heart condition and is trying to document her life before she dies: “It’s a slow race now, between me and my heart, but I intend to get there first. Where is there? The end, or The End. One or the other. Both are destinations, of a sort.” This is interspersed with chapters from The Blind Assassin, a book written by her sister Laura Chase and published posthumously by Iris after her sister’s suicide at the age of 25. The novel is divided into 15 sections, most of which alternate between being entirely about Iris’s life (some set in the present day, most in the past), and sections mostly composed of chapters from The Blind Assassin. However, those sections also include snippets from newspapers.
There are so many layers to this novel. You have the novel within a novel, but there is also a story within the novel within the novel; Laura’s book is about two lovers meeting in secret, and the man is a writer (of trashy pulp science fiction) who is making up a science fiction story for her. Then there are all of the family dynamics and family secrets that come out more and more, especially as the book begins to wrap up. Some are ones the reader may have readily guessed, some not, and you could say there is a twist, but it’s not really a “gotcha!” type – even if the reader didn’t see it coming, it’s not something that will come as a surprise.
I would say mostly, though, this is a book about sisters. It’s about Iris and Laura growing up together, their relationship after Iris gets married, and even the relationship of Iris to her deceased sister. It’s sad at times, especially in the way Iris is treated by her husband and sister-in-law, who after the death of Iris’s husband is able to assume guardianship of Iris’s daughter and, later, her granddaughter. Iris has a number of regrets, and she seems to expect to be judged, although I found her too sympathetic a character to judge. While one might question her decisions and passivity, you can also understand that she probably had some learned helplessness as well as actual powerlessness.
This is an engaging book that I recommend without hesitation.