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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Margaret Atwood

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12,021292215 (3.94)877
Title:The Blind Assassin
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Anchor Books (2001), Paperback, 521 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:1001 Books, Contemporary, Booker Prize Winner

Work details

The Blind Assassin: A Novel by Margaret Atwood (2000)

Recently added byangiestahl, private library, JillCerezke, karebek, rochelle12, Wicker, beckyface, ryansutter
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1940s (115)

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English (289)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (293)
Showing 1-5 of 289 (next | show all)
I finished 2 books in one day, VERY different types of books. This one first.

I read this as a buddy read with my GR friend Laura K. and we managed to stay very much in sync and I enjoyed reading it together.

I think this is a great book, with all questions finally answered, some not until toward the end for me, some earlier, all of them with hints along the way.

I’m giving it 4 vs. 5 stars because the story within the story within the story and even the story within the story could have been limited to many fewer pages and still been effective, and the book would have been more pleasurable for me to read. While this speculative fiction story being told and the story in the book within the book gave many clues to what happened to these characters, and did hold my attention for that reason, they were much less interesting to read than Iris narrating her present and past life, and the lives of people in her life. I trudged through The Blind Assassin chapters, even though as the book went on I saw more and more of what information they were providing. I looked forward to reading the Iris parts, both present and past.

I’d had the book on my speculative fiction shelf but I took it off when I realized the only speculative fiction part was a story being told by real people in the real world as a story within a story within a story, the first two stories being historical fiction with a tinge of mystery. I consider this a historical fiction book. It’s also a mystery in that it kept me in an always-guessing frame of mind.

There were so many quotes that I loved – if I’d selected all of them to like, they’d have taken up much more space than any review – I’m not sure why I “liked” the ones I did and not others; time and convenience and whether or not I was near the computer vs. the phone or neither is the most likely common reason.

I had to look up the definition of probably a dozen words used, a rare occurrence for me when reading a book.

Atwood writes beautifully. I love Iris as an old woman. She’s wickedly funny, brilliantly witty. Atwood did a marvelous job creating her character. I can’t believe how her characters seemed so believable, particularly Iris.

The entire story is Dickensian tragedy AND amusing!

Overall, this is a very sad story, and the reader is warned about this from the very start. Death, death, death, trauma, loss. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Atwood does an amazingly good job describing the experiences of children who’ve lost a parent while young.

There were many twists in this story, many things to keep me guessing, and I got a kick out of guessing. I was actually right about a couple main things, but some I didn’t at all guess until the reveal. I think the entire book was skillfully crafted. The construction was full of detail but with no information wasted as far as I could tell.

There were some, I think, lovely pro animal rights parts, though they were overall done very subtly.

She evokes time and place and emotions so well. It’s a gift.

I love the description of how to determine intelligent life on earth, the only part I loved of the story within the story, working on a story: “It’s about a race of extraterrestrials who send a spaceship to explore Earth. They’re composed of crystals in a high state of organization, and they attempt to establish communications with those Earth beings they’ve assumed are like themselves: eyeglasses, windowpanes, Venetian paperweights, wine goblets, diamond rings. In this they fail. They send back a report to their homeland: This planet contains many interesting relics of a once-flourishing but now-defunct civilization, which must have been of a superior order. We cannot tell what catastrophe has caused all intelligent life to become extinct. The planet currently harbours only a variety of viscous green filigree and a large number of eccentrically shaped globules of semi-liquid mud, which are tumbled hither and thither by the erratic currents of the light, transparent fluid that covers the planet’s surface. The shrill squeaks and resonant groans produced by these must be ascribed to frictional vibration, and should not be mistaken for speech.” Too funny! I need to give all of Atwood’s books a chance.

I don’t think my review is doing the book justice, and I’m afraid my review won’t even help potential readers decide whether or not this book is for them, something I generally aim to do, but I see that there are nearly 5,000 reviews already posted at Goodreads, and many others elsewhere, so I don’t feel any great responsibility to do so. I’m really glad I read the book. I’m also glad I read it with a friend because, especially at the beginning, The Blind Assassin chapters might have turned me off from continuing to read. I love speculative fiction stories but not bad ones, and this is not a great one. The main part of the book is excellent though.


Several possible spoilers/spoilers:

I’m still trying to figure out if Laura was high functioning autistic, just very sensitive, or simply a woman ahead of her time and situation. I’d think the latter but it’s unusual for adults to tell an older sibling to always take care of the younger, especially from such a young age. Whatever her state of mental health, to me she’s a main heroine here, along with Iris, eventually, and when compared to everyone around her, Laura struck me as the most sane.

All the way through what most interested me was how and why and when Iris would finally find her voice and know her own mind and also when she’d start sticking up for herself. I like the unreliable narrator aspect to the book, even though here it was done in a different way than in most stories.

I was always guessing who/what blind assassin in the main story is. I came to the conclusion that it was Iris. With Laura, maybe with Richard, though not in the way I was rooting for.

I felt a lot of gratification that Iris outlived Winifred. Winifred and particularly Richard are villains truly worth loathing. I was also very angry at Iris’s and Laura’s father, even knowing the times and cultural differences.

I felt so happy that Sabrina would read Iris’s account. What a legacy to leave! I still wish that earlier in the story, Iris had reached out directly to Sabrina. She had chances. Actually, there are so many regrets for the characters in this book. I think that’s what makes it particularly sad. There were other options for them. ( )
  Lisa2013 | Oct 25, 2015 |
I am a big fan of The Handmaid's Tale and the MaddAddam Trilogy. This, not so much. Way too long for me, especially in relation to the action. Which means there was much description. It was lovely and all...but too much. Nothing particularly exciting about it. Most of the plot twists could be discerned before they were revealed. One may have caught me. I will continue through her other works though as they rise up in my TBR stacks... ( )
  MaureenCean | Oct 4, 2015 |
Redeemed Margaret Atwood for me. Actually worth a read and it is not a tired witty commentary on state of society or feminism or power of women's imagination or whatever. Standalone reasonable story. Good solid book dropping in on the industrial days. Not so bad on love and industry and aging themes...how they decay.
  ahovde01 | Sep 6, 2015 |
Well-written, intriguing mystery within a mystery. Loved it, love Atwood. ( )
  Marse | Aug 26, 2015 |
In order to enjoy this book you need to be familiar with Atwood's style, which means you need to be willing to be tossed around a little bit as you go through the story. Sometimes you are in the past, sometimes you are not, sometimes you are reading a newspaper article. I love this. It doesn't feel as jumbled as it sounds and to me the style is actually quite appealing because it helps keep you guessing as to what is happening in the various timelines.

The writing itself is just amazing, I can see why it has been honored with several literary prizes. Still, this isn't your typical novel. Be prepared for some seriously creative and beautiful storytelling. ( )
  mirrani | Jul 10, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 289 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Atwoodprimary 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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