“Atwood shocks you into paying attention with the first sentence of this book: “Ten days after the war ended my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge”. After a brief discussion of how Iris heard about her sister’s car wreck and whether or not it was intentional, the novel then switches to a science fiction story. This change of pace may be confusing initially, but all becomes clear later in the book. The science fiction story is a novel that was written by Laura and published posthumously. The rest of the book is the story of Laura and her sister Iris who grew up in post World War I Canada.
Laura and Iris’ family were once wealthy, but the depression put their home and factory in jeopardy. Their father forces Iris to marry an older man to save the family company. After the death of their father, Laura has to move in with Iris and her husband. This situation takes its toll on both sisters, and also has consequences for the next two generations of the family. Much of the book is told from Iris’s point of view looking back on her life when she is in her eighties. Along with the internal novel, there are also newspaper clippings about the family throughout that give you an idea of how the wealthy and influential family was viewed by the general public.
While some people, even fans of Margaret Atwood, may find this novel within a novel format difficult to read, I would still recommend it. Atwood tells an engrossing story with complex characters and beautiful writing. It was worth the extra effort. This book won the Booker Prize in 2000.