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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Margaret Atwood

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12,576313190 (3.94)931
Title:The Blind Assassin
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Anchor Books (2001), Paperback, 521 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:1001 Books, Contemporary, Booker Prize Winner

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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)

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Showing 1-5 of 309 (next | show all)
A mystery novel of a novel within a novel.
  PendleHillLibrary | Sep 29, 2016 |
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood; (1/2*)

Maybe Atwood IS a genius, but if she is, then I am the one magically remaining Dodo Bird. I LOVED The Penelopiad and had been looking forward to this read for ever so long. Through the first 100 or so pages I kept telling myself: It will get better. The characters will flesh out and the story lines will clear up and become something interesting. Didn't happen. I simply found The Blind Assassin to be 637 pages of the purest boredom.
Taking the precious time to read this book was a complete waste of time for me. I should have applied CurrerBell's Pearl Rule & shut her down at page 50! But I just kept telling myself: But this is Margaret Atwood. It has to be me and perhaps it is because she is stellar in the world of writing & most everyone who has read this book has raved about it.
This reader found The Blind Assassin to be dull, tedious, boring, ummm....... that probably tells my story about it.
I guess I just did not get it. I could not even tell you what this one was all about!

Favorite quote:
"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 ( )
1 vote rainpebble | Aug 23, 2016 |
"They ache like history: things long done with, that still reverberate as pain. When the ache is bad enough it keeps me from sleeping. Every night I yearn for sleep, I strive for it; yet it flutters on ahead of me like a sooty curtain."

The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize in 2000, but please don't hold it against the book, because, apparently, in 2000 the judges got it right.

I had long been intrigued by this book because of the cover - it looks very stylish - but I had no idea what the book would be about and almost expected this would be another one of Atwood's dystopian speculative fictions.
I was completely wrong. All my preconceptions were totally unwarranted. (Tho, there is a story within the story that is set on a different planet. And there is an alien. Well, in a manner of speaking.)

The Blind Assassin is a family saga set in Ontario and focuses on the lives of Iris and her sister Laura, beginning with one of the most hard-hitting paragraphs I have read recently:

"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."

From there on we get the story of the sisters told in flashbacks through Iris' memory. However, from each memory, we also get this sense that there is much more to the story, that Iris is teasing our patience.

"No: I shouldn’t have married anyone. That would have saved a lot of trouble."

Surprisingly, this slow reveal never gets boring. Atwood weaves in so many layers that each part remains interesting as its own story, but the big picture is only revealed at the end.

In the book, we have the story of a family dynasty, that is being threatened by new money. Then we have class struggle in the early 20th century. We have have a depiction of society and history of the 20th century. We have love. We have cruelty. We have fantasy and stark reality. We have style and ugliness, powerlessness and emancipation. We have submission and we have revenge.

What we don't really have in the book is hate. Having said that, I can't remember the last time I as a reader wanted to punch a character so much as I wanted to punch one in The Blind Assassin. So, even though there is not much hate in the book, there was at least one hateful character, and even though this character's fate is somewhat ambiguous, I am satisfied with my interpretation of it.

This is not the only element of mystery in this book but the one that made it hard for me to put the book down.

I'm sorry it is difficult to describe the plot, and I don't want to give anything away, but it really is not that often that a book fascinates me on so many levels.

And of course, there is Atwood's gorgeous writing.

"The school orchestra struck up with squeaks and flats, and we sang “O Canada!,” the words to which I can never remember because they keep changing them. Nowadays they do some of it in French, which once would have been unheard of. We sat down, having affirmed our collective pride in something we can’t pronounce."

I loved the way Atwood made the characters come to life. Each of them had their own quirks, their own edges - even the supporting characters - which made them feel very real.

On top of that, the main character, Iris, a sassy and cynical old lady, just did not put up with any nonsense. As funny as this sounds, Iris' comments also made me think about some of the issues she raises - even where she claims to dismiss them with snide remarks.

"I knew enough to know that the only thing expected of me was that I not disgrace myself. I could have been back again beside the podium, or at some interminable dinner, sitting next to Richard, keeping my mouth shut. If asked, which was seldom, I used to say that my hobby was gardening. A half-truth at best, though tedious enough to pass muster."

As you can see from the star rating, I absolutely loved this book. In fact, I would now count it as one of my favourites. Atwood has this brilliant ability to tell a gripping story and relate hard issues without being sanctimonious or crass. The book will keep me thinking for some time to come still.

"Some alert functionary caught my arm and slotted me back into my chair. Back into obscurity. Back into the long shadow cast by Laura. Out of harm’s way. But the old wound has split open, the invisible blood pours forth. Soon I’ll be emptied."
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Atwood is a remarkable writer. I enjoyed every written word. The plot is slow developing, so one really needs to stick with it to enjoy it, but it is all worth it in the end. It comes together beautifully and if I was only at 3/5 midway through, I was at 5/5 by the last page. This being my second Atwood novel (the first being A Handmaid's Tale, which I loved!), I'll be looking for more from her. ( )
  bpeters65 | Jul 16, 2016 |
Odi et amo – I hate and I love. Catullus’s famous paradox was not meant to describe books, but it neatly sums up my reaction to Margaret Atwood’s pluri-prizewinning novel “The Blind Assassin”...

The 20th century is coming to an end and Iris Chase, now in her eighties, knows that her days are numbered too. She decides to write her memoirs for the benefit of her estranged granddaughter Sabrina. Her tale starts chillingly: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." Having given us a glimpse of her tale’s dark ending, Iris takes us back to the Chase siblings’ protected childhood in the (fictional) Southern Ontario town of Port Ticonderoga, where their father is a respected factory owner. The business goes through a hard time and is bought out by the Griffen family, whose upcoming scion Richard Griffen eventually marries Iris. It is an unhappy match which holds within it the seeds of tragedy.

Iris’s recollections form the main narrative strand of the novel and, set as they are in the unsettled decades between the two World Wars, they give the book the feel of a historical novel or a family saga, rendered more authentic through references to actual events. This being Atwood however, the structure of the novel soon becomes increasingly complex. We learn that Laura Chase has become a literary sensation thanks to her posthumously published roman-a-clef “The Blind Assassin”, extracts of which are interspered with Iris’s story. Laura’s novel is apparently autobiographical, chronicling her love affair with one Alex Thomas, a Communist-leaning writer of pulp fiction. As if this novel-within-a-novel were not enough, Alex spices up the lovers’ encounters with storytelling, which spawns a third narrative strand – a quasi-scifi tale about the exploits of a “blind assassin” in the fantastical Planet Zycron. The Baboushka-dolls structure underlines this (meta-)novel’s obsession with the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, truth and deceit.

Atwood’s novel has been described as a postmodernist masterpiece and I have little hesitation in agreeing with this appraisal. Its potentially convoluted structure is deftly handled, leading to an effective climax in the final chapters. The dialogue and narrative voice are perfectly pitched and hardly a page goes by without the reader chancing upon an arresting image, observation or turn-of-phrase. Yet, I often found myself viscerally hating the novel and it took me a real effort to finish it. Why?

I think that it’s mostly down to the novel’s or, to be exact, Iris’s worldview. Her bitterness poisons all the characters, who invariably come across as scheming, manipulative and cruel or, at best, short-sighted and naive. Even Laura, who has little time for material trappings and is one of the more “spiritual” figures in the book, has the nasty habit of entering into “pacts” with God. Which, it must be said, He consistently breaks.

Indeed, the novel’s world is one in which everything is subject to negotiation and everything is up for sale. This applies particularly to the women who, like the bosomy figures in Alex Thomas’s pulp stories, are merely chattel in a male-dominated society.

Yes, I know – Atwood is making a very valid point here. And, yes, I do appreciate that sometimes an argument needs to be strongly (and unsubtly?) presented for it to strike home. And I know as well that one should not mistake a character’s point of view with that of the novel and still less with that of the author.

But the fact remains that I found the novel’s bleakness suffocating, its dark humour and glinting brilliance merely rubbing salt into this reader’s wounds. At the risk of sounding like an Eastenders fan who rants at the actor playing the baddie, I’ll give a miserly two stars to this dazzling novel which I hated ... and loved. ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Jul 15, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 309 (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.

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Atwood, Margaretprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dionne, MargotNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarkka, HannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
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.
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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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385720955, Paperback)

The Blind Assassin is a tale of two sisters, one of whom dies under ambiguous circumstances in the opening pages. The survivor, Iris Chase Griffen, initially seems a little cold-blooded about this death in the family. But as Margaret Atwood's most ambitious work unfolds--a tricky process, in fact, with several nested narratives and even an entire novel-within-a-novel--we're reminded of just how complicated the familial game of hide-and-seek can be:
What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly, for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain.
Meanwhile, Atwood immediately launches into an excerpt from Laura Chase's novel, The Blind Assassin, posthumously published in 1947. In this double-decker concoction, a wealthy woman dabbles in blue-collar passion, even as her lover regales her with a series of science-fictional parables. Complicated? You bet. But the author puts all this variegation to good use, taking expert measure of our capacity for self-delusion and complicity, not to mention desolation. Almost everybody in her sprawling narrative manages to--or prefers to--overlook what's in plain sight. And memory isn't much of a salve either, as Iris points out: "Nothing is more difficult than to understand the dead, I've found; but nothing is more dangerous than to ignore them." Yet Atwood never succumbs to postmodern cynicism, or modish contempt for her characters. On the contrary, she's capable of great tenderness, and as we immerse ourselves in Iris's spliced-in memoir, it's clear that this buttoned-up socialite has been anything but blind to the chaos surrounding her. --Darya Silver

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:47 -0400)

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Told in the story within a story fashion, the reader learns about the mysterious death of one sister from her surviving sister.

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