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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin (original 2000; edition 2000)

by Margaret Atwood

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11,785287225 (3.94)849
Title:The Blind Assassin
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Nan A. Talese (2000), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 544 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:read2012, Iris, Laura, siblings

Work details

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)

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    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)
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» See also 849 mentions

English (284)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (288)
Showing 1-5 of 284 (next | show all)
the only meaningful stumbling block for me with the story was that i felt it to be too long and rambling. but i'm attributing that to my own bias and preferences because i was not enamoured of the story or these people. i did not have to drag myself kicking through the mire of this book to get to the end -it was far from that- but neither was i personally invested in this story. Atwood is a wonderful writer and was able to intrigue me enough with the different tales and time periods happening throughout to hold my attention and have me wanting to see where everything fit.

ambitious, to say the least, the intertwining of news clippings, no-name tellings of trysts, narrative of the main remembered story, and current prose that looked back over all of the former really worked to intrigue and give a unique perspective on a long and full life. the book weaves together a historical piece with that of a romance and a kind of whodunit while taking a deep and personal look into the oppression of women and the everyday banal consequences of paternalistic power and politics and yet does not idealize the maternalistic view as a perfect replacement. we are forced to hold the sprawling tale of a family during a pivotal time in history at arm's length and study it a little coldly. Iris tells us about her life as an old woman but then waxes nostalgic and relates what happened to her and her sister Laura in the early part of the 20th century. this is interspersed with a story about a mysterious "she" who has secret meetings with a man that makes up science fiction and fantasy stories for her. All of this punctuated with newspaper clippings and obituaries.

for me, it seemed Atwood did not want us to become too attached to the main narrator, Iris, but kept us a little ways away to create a certain lonely isolation that mimicked Iris's own.

at the beginning, i correctly guessed some things about the end but there were a couple of other things that i did not pick up on. here's another critique of Atwood's style in this book: she seems to have deliberately, almost clumsily obscured clues in the text that may have led readers to deduce these ends. that is, it almost seems like she wrote everything down whole cloth and then went back with a redacter's pen to remove possible trailheads instead of using sleight of hand in her writing to make things ambiguous and fuzzy. of course, one could argue that Atwood was channeling Iris and wrote it completely as Iris...

using the subplot and even deeper substories of the blind assassin and alien planets and their cultures and wars was effective in diffusing and commenting on the central story. i just think those tools should have been used more often with less in between them. the metaphor and commentary they seem to evoke from the rest of the story may be totally fabricated from my mind but i think they apply, nevertheless. the intricate tapestry that is Iris's life and how she wove together hers and Laura's lives is in agreement with her being a blind assassin, forced to make the meticulously patterned rugs and going blind because of it. apt, i think. ( )
  keebrook | Mar 10, 2015 |
Putting book down. Come back to another time. Not sure if really have no interest in this story or if I just have no interest in it now. Will give another try later.
  deep220 | Feb 17, 2015 |
I'm confused as to what I think of this book. Part of me loved it - there is no doubt Atwood is a splendid prose writer, and the last 200 pages or so had me gripped as all the loose ends were finally tied up. I just felt it took so long to get to that point, and I'd figured out many of the plot twists long before the end anyway.

This is a lengthy book (some 600 odd pages), and 300 pages in I still wasn't sure if I was hooked. I enjoy a slow burn if the writing's great, and there can be no denying Atwood's skills in that department, but there's slow and then there's slow. In many early sections of the book it felt as if there was no build up to anything, and as I don't enjoy reading sci-fi I didn't enjoy the 'Blind Assassin' sections that much where a sci-fi story is unfolded.

It is a very clever book, though - Atwood uses numerous literary tools to weave a unique and complex plot.

I can appreciate why for others this is 5 star material, but personally, I preferred Alias Grace. ( )
1 vote AlisonY | Feb 4, 2015 |
What an incredibly epic story! The Blind Assassin is one of Margaret Atwood's finest works. The story is told from the perspective of Iris Chase, heiress to a failing button empire. The story spans the twentieth century with major events centered around the two World Wars. Atwood uses very interesting writing techniques, including a novel-within-a-novel-within-a-novel, to develop the life of Iris, her sister Laura, and other family and associations. The story explores a central mystery while detailing the love, tragedy, and failings that shaped Iris's life. Highly, highly recommended read. ( )
  mfedore | Jan 28, 2015 |
After being disappointed in Maddaddam I really felt the need to read some of Atwood's earlier work. I'd been meaning to read this for some time and I figured that this would be a good book to restore my faith in her. And boy did it!

I absolutely loved this book. It was stunning, masterful and all the other adjectives that go in the that general strain. It was interesting how I can see the differences in her writing form her earlier stuff and her Maddaddam series. While both are amazing, they definitely showcase different strengths. Oryx and Crake tended to be more overt and in your face, with just the right amount of subtlety (does anyone else think that's an oddly spelled word?) to keep you really paying attention so you can catch everything.

The Blind Assassin is a different story. This book thrives on its subtlety (seriously though, that spelling) which is what makes it so beautiful. They only time she actually straightforwardly says what is happening is the very end when everything comes together, however, if you're paying close attention you can figure most of it out before then; but only if you're paying close attention.

There are three stories going on in this novel. There is the story that Iris is writing in her old age, there is the novel, The Blind Assassin, and there is the story that the character in the novel The Blind Assassin is telling to his lover. Sounds confusing right? Well, it wasn't. Atwood did a beautiful job of blending all of these stories together to create one whole cohesive novel. Never once was I confused as what was happening, as the chapters are labeled to tell you what you are reading.

On top of this, there are newspaper articles strewn about the book that connect to the lives of Iris and her family that both reveal certain things about this family as well as examines the political and social climate of the time period. They worked very well as a character building device as well as placing us in the setting of the novel.

This book is a stunning example of the brilliance of Margaret Atwood and totally deserves the award that it won (The Booker Prize). I don't think I can recommend this book enough, and I think passing this book over would be a grave mistake.

Notable Quotes:

"Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence. Time and distance blur the edges; then suddenly the beloved has arrived, and it's noon with its merciless light, and every spot and pore and wrinkle and bristle stands clear."

"Romance takes place in the middle distance. Romance is looking in at yourself, through a window clouded with dew. Romance means leaving things out: where life grunts and snuffles, romance only sighs."

"Nothing is more difficult than to understand the dead, I've found; but nothing is more dangerous than to ignore them." ( )
  kell1732 | Jan 25, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 284 (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 inabited 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.
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:30 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

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

(summary from another edition)

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