*spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.*
Laura’s character was what put life into this book for most part before the big twist in the end blurred it a great deal. Except for that, there were lots of themes – the old feminist theme of bored, depressed wife, the war, the novel within novel, the novel within novel within novel, ee tee cee, ee tee cee. They all were just okay themes with not much special about them except for the old-age-is-no-fun theme which was done really well. That might be why it won the booker. Booker committe really loves old narrators looking back at their disappointing lives – Milkman, Last Orders, The Remains of the day, The Sea and the sea, the sea. I’m sure there are many more.
Still if you are old and think you might die any moment, you won’t wait for 600 pages of rambling before letting your secret out. Right? Particularly when you expect your grand daughter to stop and listen. Adolscents just don’t have that kind of attention span.
It would have been a 4 star book but the twist did more to spoil the book for me than add anything constructive. Its probably me though. I am a Greek tragedy fan kind of person – I prefer it when characters are so well built over course of book that by the end, you could be able to predict their actions and tragedy that awaits them and are desperately hoping for a twist that you know won’t come. There are almost no good shocking plots twists IMO when it comes to literary fiction. The unreliable narrators only work when they have given reasons to be unreliable from very begining or at least by the middle of the book – and in that case they won’t shock you because you know not to trust him or her in first place. The ‘Ha! gotcha!’ endings are worst when it comes to literary fiction. In this case, even after hearing from Iris for the majority of book, I imagined her to be a bit too much of a pushover and then she goes ahead and tells us suddenly she had everyone fooled. I can understand she may have wished to fool people once but why do it on death bed? And if she was capable of cheating, why stick with her marriage at all? Or how it was that she just knew her daughter wasn’t fathered by Richard?
Similarly you are forced to rethink about Laura’s character because suddenly she isn’t a defiant girl but also the victim. To be honest, I did expect Richard to assault her at some time or other – it was too much of a cliche not to be expected but when I didn’t see it actually happen for a major part of book, I thought Atwood was avoiding the cliche.
No, she wasn’t.
And if you think of other themes, well I don’t think there was anything memorable in here about wars. Iris herself admits that Richard’s character is badly written, and I agree – both Richard and his sister might have been evil characters from Grimm Brothers’ story collection.
Besides old-life-sucks theme, the two sisters theme might be next best thing. Toward the end, Iris wonders whether Laura didn’t in fact somehow wrote the book or something to effect. The returning motif which should have made a better book cover would be that picture torn in half – a man and a woman, and a hand of another woman. The intermingling of life of two sisters was an interesting theme or would have been awesome if you didn’t grow up while being forced to watch Indian daily soaps on family television while having your dinner.
Imagine a good television version made out of book except with a lot of confused flashbacks at that particular moment where Laura makes the declaration about true authorship of book – raising questions on identities or even something to effect where you are made to wonder whether Laura wasn’t in fact a figment of Iris’ imagination, a split personality that does what Laura would have wanted to do. Some parts of story could have to be changed but that would have been a 5 star book or movie. Laura was already asking questions as a child which Iris was afraid to, her childish way of looking at things was what Laura would have prefer to have growing up instead of her own rational mind, challenging or refusing to believe in notions which Iris felt forced to accept, Laura being the one to want to hold on to words when it was Iris who was later to become author, Laura being one to talk to the stranger and fall in love with that stranger whom Iris had a cursh on, Laura being the one who wants to and tries to commit suicide being driven by emotions when a more worldy Iris tried to hold on to her and so on – a lady’s version of Fighter’s club except with less fights and drinking. But I already said ‘ladies version’. Even with split personality made into a real sister, it really seemed to be the best theme of Atwood’s book – Laura being the Iris that Iris herself wasn’t or couldn’t be becuase of all the tragedies that feminists used to whine about in bad old days. And I thought Atwood was doing this theme well. Till she went for the twist.
*spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.*