• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    Andrea on [829] Inferno – Dan…
    Matthew on [825] Paradise Lost -John…
    Anokatony on [825] Paradise Lost -John…
    Matthew on The King’s English Books…
    Katie Marie on The King’s English Books…
    lazyhaze on Reading Kafka’s “T…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 997,181 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,722 other followers

[455] The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

” Curiosity is not our only motive: love or grief or despair or hatred is what drives us on. We’ll spy relentlessly on the dead: we’ll open their letters, we’ll read their journals, we’ll go through their trash, hoping for a hint, a final word, an explanation, from those who have deserted us—who’ve left us holding the bag, which is often a good deal emptier than we’d supposed. ” (Part XIII, p.494)

I have been both intimidated by the seeming complexity of the novel and in awe of Margaret Atwood’s wit. Finishing the book justifies both. Though The Blind Assassin‘s plot sounds invincibly complicated—or at the very least convoluted, Atwood pulls it off effortlessly. Woven together in variations of voices and styles are four stories, told partly in newspaper clippings, in chapters of another book, and first-person narratives. The novel within a novel gives its title to the whole of the book.

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off the bridge. (Part I, p.1)

So the novel begins, lending an air of mystery, as to who might have been insidiously responsible for the accident. Laura’s story–what leads to her tragic death–but this story comes much later. The primary narrator is Iris Chase Griffen, 83, who is telling the story in flashback. She reflects the childhood years, just before the war, when she and Laura grew up in the house of Avilion. When the end of World War I marks the downfall of their father’s button factory, which manufactured cheap buttons and no-frill clothing, the factory was taken over by his rival Richard Griffen. His proposal to Iris is more a business deal that would bail the girls out of their father’s fiasco. Iris’s marriage to Richard founders from the very beginning because it does not hinge on love. So Iris ceases to exist as herself, but a being pruned to the preference and intention of Richard and his controlling sister.

I and the girl in the picture have ceased to be the same person. I am her outcome, the result of the life she once lived headlong; whereas she, if she can be said to exist at all, is composed only of what I remember. I have the better view—I can see her clearly, most of the time. But even if she knew enough to look, she can’t see me at all. (Part V, p.239)

When Iris’s narration on the intrigue of Laura’s death and the money-ridden, deplorable Griffen family gives way to conversations between two anonymous lovers collaborating on a sci-fi novel, we assume that we are reading the genesis of Laura’s tale. The lurid fantasy about Sakiel-Norn and the assassination of its king constitute to a novel-within-a-novel.

It was only three weeks after this that Amiee fell down the stairs. I mourned her, of course. She was my daughter. But I have to admit I mourned the self she’d been at a much earlier age. I mourned what she could have become; I mourned her lost possibilities. More than anything, I mourned my own failures. (Part XI, p.437)

The Blind Assassin retains its sense of mystery to the end, when the interplay of secrets in the sister’ tangled lives are revealed. Iris is one of the most memorable characters in contemporary literature. As she reflects upon the path she has taken to old age, she is oblivious to her own hand in the downward turn. victim to whom fate has not been kind, but whose ills (like those of many victims of circumstance) are largely of her own making, even if her contribution was often one of complacency. Between the different stories the novel itself is breath-taking from the standpoints of both craftsmanship and storytelling. The inner story, after a time, emerges as a surreal metaphor for the lives of the lovers, and, oddly, for the lives of those outside of Laura’s fiction.

521 pp. Anchor Trade Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

10 Responses

  1. and once again, matthew, you bring joy to my morning by reviewing a favorite writer. I hadn’t read The Blind Assassin, but I intend to remedy that soon,

    • I have always enjoyed Atwood’s books. This one has been staring at me forever at the bookshop, begging me to take it home. I am thrilled that I have finally read it and enjoyed it. Have you read A Handmaid’s Tale? That one is also a favorite, it’s a chilling read.

  2. I was JUST talking about this novel yesterday and saying I needed to reread it. I read it about 8 years ago and absolutely loved it. The feeling I got while reading the novel has stayed with me all this time, though I can’t recall specifics. Thanks for reinforcing that I need to reread this one soon.

    • The characters are memorable in The Blind Assasin. I also like the ingenious manner by which she interweaves the sisters’ stories. It does read like a mystery at the beginning, but quickly turns into one about being a parent, about making personal choices, and most of all, about sisterly love.

  3. Just out of curiosity, how long did it take you to finish reading that book (taking notes and all)?

    I have that same edition but I’m finding reading it to be overwhelming, although I actually love big books.

    • It took me a day shy of a week. I had to re-read a couple passages and take notes while I was reading. It’s not as overwhelming as Alias Grace, which is more a straight forward story but filled with description of the justice and mental health ssystem.

  4. I love the feeling that you get, when reading this book, when you realize, as a reader, that it’s all starting to knit together. So exciting! This is one of my favourites, and now I want to re-read it, thanks to your enthusiasm for it.

    • For a while I couldn’t make of the anonymous lovers who secretly got together and concoted a sci fi story. Then it dawned on me that the unnamed girl could very well be Laura, who is literally living in a different world from her sister. She’s mentally estranged from her family and wanted to pursue some higher meaning of life. The ending, how the different stories converge together, is very satisfactory.

  5. […] The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood retains its sense of mystery to the end, when the interplay of secrets in the sister’ tangled lives are revealed. Iris is one of the most memorable characters in contemporary literature. As she reflects upon the path she has taken to old age, she is oblivious to her own hand in the downward turn. Victim to whom fate has not been kind, but whose ills (like those of many victims of circumstance) are largely of her own making, even if her contribution was often one of complacency. So glad I have finally read this paramount classic. […]

  6. This is yet another book that has languished on my shelves for awhile. If only I could quit my day job and have more time for reading. I know we can all say the same!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: