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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
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The Blind Assassin (2000)

by Margaret Atwood

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
14,235342277 (3.93)1023
A science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in a dingy backstreet room. Set in a multi-layered story of the death of a woman's sister and husband in the 1940's, with a novel-within-a novel as a background.
  1. 182
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (browner56)
    browner56: Two superbly crafted explorations of the cathartic power that comes from the act of writing.
  2. 50
    The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (rbtanger)
  3. 41
    To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (the_awesome_opossum)
  4. 41
    Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (Smiler69)
  5. 31
    Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald (jhedlund, djmccord73)
    djmccord73: family history, secrets
  6. 10
    A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (sturlington)
    sturlington: Writers and books within books.
  7. 10
    The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (thea-block)
    thea-block: Pictures of the whole a woman's life, exploring how early decisions effect the rest of their lives.
  8. 10
    The Pursuit of Happiness by Douglas Kennedy (Pedrolina)
  9. 10
    Stella Descending by Linn Ullmann (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Laura Chase in The Blind Assassin falls to her death from a bridge over a ravine, just as Stella falls to hers from a roof. The Blind Assassin is concerned with finding out why Laura fell, with newspaper reports given, excerpts from a novel quoted, and passages of narration from Laura's sister -- all out of chronological sequence; just as the cause of Stella's fall is sought through Ullmann's novel by a variety of narrators, with excerpts from a video, all simililarly out of chronological order. Both Stella and Laura act as nurses, and fall prey to unprincipled men. Both novels include a pair of sisters whose mother dies when they are young, leaving the elder girl to take care of the younger; children with absent or unknown fathers; and someone very old, near to their own death, who loved Laura/Stella. Laura's sister fancies, `there was no floor to my room: I was suspended in the air, about to plummet. My fall would be endless -- endlessly down'. Stella's daughter tells her sister, `Mama fell off a roof, Mama's falling still. She falls and falls and never hits the ground'.… (more)
  10. 21
    The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (rbtanger)
  11. 00
    The Hours by Michael Cunningham (sturlington)
  12. 00
    Glass Mountain by Cynthia Voigt (electronicmemory)
    electronicmemory: Two books that are slow, close character studies of our protagonists. They both have lovely prose, vivid imagery and nuance.
  13. 78
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Anonymous user)
  14. 01
    Autumn Laing by Alex Miller (jll1976)
    jll1976: Similar themes and style. Also a 'death bed confessional'.
  15. 23
    The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (PrincessPaulina)
    PrincessPaulina: Main characters are seniors, reexamining their biographies at the end of their lives.
  16. 34
    Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (electronicmemory)
    electronicmemory: Historical settings come alive in these novels about the complexities of life among close-knit high society social circles.
  17. 02
    My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Deception is layered on deception until even the truth looks false.
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Showing 1-5 of 336 (next | show all)
In Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel, published in 2000, she tells the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase.

The book opens with a report of Laura’s death by possible suicide, shortly after the ending of World War II. An older Iris, writing from the tail end of the 20th century, tells the story of her current life, and also the story of her and Laura’s lives. There is a second narrative – that of Laura’s posthumously published novel The Blind Assassin, which is about two unnamed lovers and their clandestine meetings, during which the man entertains the woman with a rather macabre and violent sci-fi story set on the planet of Zycron.

Margaret Atwood is one of those authors who I love, even when I don’t love her. The Handmaid’s Tale was a solid 5/5 for me, whereas Oryx and Crake was something of a disappointment. But generally speaking I always get something from her books and rarely forget them.

The Blind Assassin was not at all what I expected and for the first part, I was not sure I was going to like it. But it kind of crept up on me and I realised that I was enjoying it. In all honesty I never really felt as though I got a handle on Iris despite her narrating much of the book. In fact, Laura was more of a rounded character – sure she was an enigma, but she was meant to be, even to those closest to her – despite being dead before the story started.

As always with Atwood, the language is intelligent and luscious, and often at times quite cutting. Nobody quite comes out of her books without some sort of mark by their name! I didn’t like the direction that Iris’ life took, but neither did she, so I imagine that was deliberate.

I would recommend this book to any fans of Margaret Atwood – although I probably don’t need to because they will have already read it. I felt always slightly detached from it; it was always a story with me on the outside looking in, instead of one of those books that you find yourself completely immersed in, but I liked it a lot for the writing and for never quite knowing where and how it was going to end. ( )
  Ruth72 | May 28, 2020 |
Best for:
Me, I thought, but apparently not, as I was not able to get through it all.

In a nutshell:
Oh boy. Iris’s sister has driven herself off a bridge and is dead. Then there’s another book, a science-fiction-y type book. Then Iris is a child, and we learn about her life growing up. Apparently later on there are many twists.

Worth quoting:
“Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow case by its absence.

Why I chose it:
I bought this awhile ago, right around when I first read The Handmaid’s Tale and wanted to read more of her work.

Review:
It’s hard to review a book that I couldn’t get into, especially when maybe the issue was me? The writing is great - I can picture the characters and every scene I read. The story overall was just I think too jumpy in the beginning for me to feel invested in any area of it. I generally enjoy time jumps and not really knowing where something is going in a novel, but this felt so disjointed that I couldn’t get into any sort of flow with it.

I can see a world where I start this book on a flight and then keep reading it while on vacation. But with everything going on right now, and all the different ways to get distracted right now, I needed a book that would immediately suck me in, and this one did not.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it ( )
  ASKelmore | May 10, 2020 |
"I wonder which is preferable - to walk around all your life swollen up with your own secrets until you burst from the pressure of them, or to have them sucked out of you, every paragraph, every sentence, every word of them, so at the end you're depleted of all that was once as precious to you as hoarded gold, as close to you as your skin - everything that was of the deepest importance to you, everything that made you cringe and wish to conceal, everything that belonged to you alone - and must spend the rest of your days like an empty sack flapping in the wind, an empty sack branded with a bright fluorescent label so that everyone will know what sort of secrets used to be inside you?"

3.5 stars, and recommended for all Atwood novel lovers.



https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/132013046?book_show_action=true&from_r... ( )
  stephanie_M | Apr 30, 2020 |
This is a book about two sisters, Iris and Laura. The book starts with Laura's suicide and Iris looks back over all the events that lead up to this tragedy.

Iris and Laura are living in Southern Ontario in the rely part of the 20th century. Their mother has died leaving them with their father and a housekeeper Reenie. Their father is a well off and respected local business man who owns a factory that makes buttons. After the First World War the business starts to decline and following an arson attack, their father is forced to sell out to a rival. The main suspect of the arson is Alex, a friend of the sisters. He disappears and it is assumed he is guilty.

Iris is offered as a bride to Richard Griffen as part of the deal to recuse her fathers business. Richard is a successful businessman with political ambitions supported and pushed by his sister Winifred. She is now stuck in this loveless marriage and is always pushed to be the trophy wife. Her personal ambitions are suppressed by the manipulative Winifred, who is always looking to promote her brother in the best light.

Iris gives Richard a daughter, but not the son and heir he, and in particular Winifred, was hoping for. Laura has a mental breakdown and is sent to an institute. On the discovery of some diaries, Iris uncovers exactly what had been happening and decides that she needs to control her future now.

Woven in all of this is the pulp science fiction book that has been written by Laura. This novel-within-a-novel had thought to have been inspired by Laura's romance with Alex, but as the book progresses, it reveals the true events that happened.

This is a very clever piece of writing. Atwood has given us a story that seems innocuous at first glance, but as the layers are revealed, the greater depth and meaning is revealed. The story within that slowly reveals the truth is a powerful way of telling this story too.

Atwood has developed some really strong characters, from the stoical iris, the vulnerable Laura, the vile and manipulative Winifred to Richard, who is cold and callous. The interplay between them is subtle at times, and at others harsh and uncompromising.

Solid stuff from Atwood; 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
I liked the other Atwood books I've read, but this one just dragged. ( )
1 vote tombrown | Feb 21, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 336 (next | show all)
Margaret Atwood poses a provocative question in her new novel, "The Blind Assassin." How much are the bad turns of one's life determined by things beyond our control, like sex and class, and how much by personal responsibility? Unlike most folks who raise this question so that they can wag their finger -- she's made her bed, and so on -- Atwood's foray into this moral terrain is complex and surprising. Far from preaching to the converted, Atwood's cunning tale assumes a like-minded reader only so that she can argue, quite persuasively, from the other side.
added by stephmo | editSalon.com, Karen Houppert (Dec 12, 2000)
 
In her tenth novel, Margaret Atwood again demonstrates that she has mastered the art of creating dense, complex fictions from carefully layered narratives, making use of an array of literary devices - flashbacks, multiple time schemes, ambiguous, indeterminate plots - and that she can hook her readers by virtue of her exceptional story-telling skills. The Blind Assassin is not a book that can easily be put to one side, in spite of its length and the fact that its twists and turns occasionally try the patience; yet it falls short of making the emotional impact that its suggestive and slippery plot at times promises.
added by stephmo | editThe Guardian, Alex Clark (Sep 30, 2000)
 
Ms. Atwood's absorbing new novel, ''The Blind Assassin,'' features a story within a story within a story -- a science-fiction yarn within a hard-boiled tale of adultery within a larger narrative about familial love and dissolution. The novel is largely unencumbered by the feminist ideology that weighed down such earlier Atwood novels as ''The Edible Woman'' and ''The Handmaid's Tale,'' and for the most part it is also shorn of those books' satiric social vision. In fact, of all the author's books to date, ''The Blind Assassin'' is most purely a work of entertainment -- an expertly rendered Daphne du Maurieresque tale that showcases Ms. Atwood's narrative powers and her ardent love of the Gothic.
 
In her ingenious new tale of love, rivalry, and deception, The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood interweaves several genres — a confessional memoir, a pulp fantasy novel, newspaper clippings — to tease out the secrets behind the 1945 death of 25-year-old socialite Laura Chase.
 
Nearly 20 years ago, in speaking of her craft, the novelist Margaret Atwood observed that ''a character in a book who is consistently well behaved probably spells disaster for the book.'' She might have asserted the more general principle that consistent anything in a character can prove tedious. If we apply the old Forsterian standard that round characters are ones ''capable of surprising in a convincing way,'' Atwood's new novel, for all its multilayered story-within-a-story-within-a-story construction, must be judged flat as a pancake. In ''The Blind Assassin,'' overlong and badly written, our first impressions of the dramatis personae prove not so much lasting as total.
 

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Atwoodprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dionne, MargotNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarkka, HannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Imagine the monarch Agha Mohammad Khan, who orders the entire population of the city of Kerman murdered or blinded—no exceptions. His praetorians set energetically to work. They line up the inhabitants, slice off the heads of the adults, gouge out the eyes of the children. . . . Later, processions of blinded children leave the city. Some, wandering around in the countryside, lose their way in the desert and die of thirst. Other groups reach inhabited settlements...singing songs about the extermination of the citizens of Kerman. . . .

—Ryszard Kapuściński
I swam, the sea was boundless, I saw no shore.
Tanit was merciless, my prayers were answered.
O you who drown in love, remember me.

— Inscription on a Carthaginian Funerary Urn
The word is a flame burning in a dark glass.

—Sheila Watson
Dedication
First words
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.
Quotations
Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up the bright shadow cast by its absence.
What virtue was once attached to this notion—of going beyond your strength, of not sparing yourself, of ruining your health! Nobody is born with that kind of selflessness: it can be acquired only by the most relentless discipline, a crushing-out of natural inclination, and by my time the knack or secret of it must have been lost.
I'm sorry, I'm just not interested.
Or perhaps she's just softening me up: she's a Baptist, she'd like me to find Jesus, or vice versa, before it's too late. That kind of thing doesn't run in her family: her mother Reenie never went in much for God. There was mutual respect, and if you were in trouble, naturally you'd call on him, as with lawyers, but as with lawyers, it would have to be bad trouble. Otherwise it didn't pay to get too mixed up with him.
She knew the family histories, or at least something about them. What she would tell me varied in relation to my age, and also in relation to how distracted she was at the time. Nevertheless, in this way I collected enough fragments of the past to make a reconstruction of it, which must have borne as much relation to the real thing as a mosaic portrait would to the original. I didn't want realism anyway: I wanted things to be highly coloured, simple in outline, without ambiguity, which is what most children want when it comes to the stories of their parents. They want a postcard.
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