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The Blind Assassin (2000)

by Margaret Atwood

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
16,245379308 (3.93)1 / 1058
Fiction. Mystery. Science Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML:The bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments weaves together strands of gothic suspense, romance, and science fiction into one utterly spellbinding narrative, beginning with the mysterious death of a young woman named Laura Chase in 1945.

Decades later, Laura??s sister Iris recounts her memories of their childhood, and of the dramatic deaths that have punctuated their wealthy, eccentric family??s history. Intertwined with Iris??s account are chapters from the scandalous novel that made Laura famous, in which two illicit lovers amuse each other by spinning a tale of a blind killer on a distant planet.

These richly layered stories-within-stories gradually illuminate the secrets that have long haunted the Chase family, coming together in a brilliant and astonishing fin
… (more)
Recently added byprivate library, capstone, Rini55, alimarie314, lmbooks73, booksatasteal, Nightshelf
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    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)
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    thea-block: Pictures of the whole a woman's life, exploring how early decisions effect the rest of their lives.
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    PrincessPaulina: Main characters are seniors, reexamining their biographies at the end of their lives.
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    electronicmemory: Two books that are slow, close character studies of our protagonists. They both have lovely prose, vivid imagery and nuance.
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    electronicmemory: Historical settings come alive in these novels about the complexities of life among close-knit high society social circles.
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    jll1976: Similar themes and style. Also a 'death bed confessional'.
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This book is made up of stories told within stories. You have a first person narrator, who is writing a book within her narration, some newspaper clippings, a novel within the novel, and another story told within that. It's an ambitious project, but Atwood does it well.

The main characters are a pair of sisters, Iris and Laura, who are heirs of the Chase family of button makers. Throughout the book a multi-generational family drama unfolds that reveals the ability of stories to simultaneously perpetuate our lives after we are gone and to erase who we actually were.

I loved this book. Atwood is a master storyteller, and even though there were a few plot twists that were telegraphed, she made me care enough about the characters and what happened to them that I didn't really care. It's a great book! ( )
  fuzzy_patters | Sep 28, 2023 |
I expected the book to come as billed: "An intricately intertwined set of narratives hiding a shocking family mystery." Instead it was
1. Snippets of an interesting science fiction story, told by unknown lovers, padded with
2. An excruciating story of two young, insipid, girls and their coming of age. The beginning of the lives of the girls was interesting to develop setting and character, and their adulthood (the end of the time described in this part) was predictable, but at least relevant. However, for the middle 300 pages, this becomes an interminably long day-by-day description of everything that they ate and wore. In addition, because these girls are so completely insipid we are treated to the details of how they hate absolutely everything and aspire to nothing, which is a little less than endearing. However, this is still not the most insufferable of the three parts, because the remainder of the book is
3. The nominal framing device. Less a story on its own and more to remind us how "clever" Atwood is in her prose style, this framing device seems to consist of determining how many ways the narrator can find to remind us that she's old and her heart bothers her. She goes to eat donuts. She reads the graffiti on bathroom stalls. She has chest pain, a lot. She tries to do her laundry. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Even without much in the way of plot (that which there is having been telegraphed 300 pages in advance), this book could have had literary merit if the characters had been at all interesting. But instead Laura and Iris are the most frustrating characters known to my literary world. For example, Iris complains bitterly about getting married away to a rich man, for which one may have sympathy, had she not spent the proceeding 100 pages explaining how she wanted to be rich and she expected to marry money to get there. Laura is flighty and "spiritual," and disobedient, in such ways as to be maximally irritating but accomplish nothing. However, if Laura ever directly told anyone anything there wouldn't really be a book, so there is that.

The other most frustrating part of this book is the "unknown lovers" framing device for the Blind Assassin story. It is obvious to the reader who the unknown lovers are; however the characterization in this segment is so drastically different from that of the others (in that the female protagonist of this section, unlike every other female character in this book, has opinions, expresses them and acts on her will.) It is unclear whether this is done in a futile attempt to obscure the identity of the unknown lovers, or because the story is being told by an unreliable narrator (which makes little sense, given the final identity.)

Addendum, 12/11 - having finished Oryx & Crake it feels nothing short of criminal that Margaret Atwood spent time writing this book when she is clearly capable of so much more.
( )
  settingshadow | Aug 19, 2023 |
Margaret Atwood is a wonder. This book is a marvel, a memoir of a fictional character that is rich, deep and contains lots that is unexpected. It's great; read it, if you have not. ( )
  RickGeissal | Aug 16, 2023 |
This drew me in. It was clearly building to something but I could never figure it out. What would happen that would make this all make sense? I kept reading hoping to find out what would explain all these clues that had been expertly dropped along the way.

The central characters were two sisters who are heirs to a button manufacturing company which failed in the 1930s after being the mainstay of their small city in Canada. The older sister is the narrator who tells their story sometimes by recalling earlier events as she ages and sometimes as if it was happening right then. Their father struggled after losing his wife, who had come from Montreal society. After returning from WWI he is both a hero and also someone who has to deal with his wounds for the rest of his life. When not going off to seek feminine companionship, he often avoids everyone by isolating himself in the mansion's attic, losing himself in alcohol. He's been trying to keep everyone employed even as the demand for buttons disappears in the depression but it's not a realistic solution. The trajectory is definitely downward.

The younger sister, a few years younger than the narrator, is always considered different. She says whatever is on her mind and what she says is always something no one anticipated. She, even without asking anyone's permission, invites to diner a young labor organizer her father's companion had brought to town. After an arsonist sets fire to her father's factory the young man is sought by the police as the most likely suspect. The older sister realizes her sister is behind the young man's disappearance. She finds them in a small closet in the attic. Instead of exposing them she helps getting food to him so he can hide until it's safe to escape. The die is cast.

With the factory nonfunctional the father finally comes to grips with reality and comes up with a solution with his rival. The rival will buy the minimal assets of the family as long as the older sister (now only 19) agrees to marry him. To rescue the family she agrees. The rival, now her husband, has political plans and a domineering older sister who makes all the decisions. The narrator is whisked off to Toronto to be the trophy wife with little to say about anything in her life.

A few years later she spies the young man on the street and tracks him down. They begin a torrid affair punctuated with his entertaining her with stories he makes up on the spot. This is where the Blind Assassin enters the pictures. His stories, Atwood's other side, are science fiction/fantasy tales. The Blind Assassin is the central figure of a continuing set of stories he makes up in those brief meetings where they are together.

Now the plot thickens. We learn that the younger sister is the revered author of a younger generation who admire her outspokenness. She has driven a car off a bridge under construction. While the event is spun in to an accident, her older sister assumes it was more likely a suicide. We eventually learn the younger sister had been subjected to an abortion against her will and believes the baby was the result of an affair the young man. The older sister realizes that can't possibly be true and confronts her, leading probably to the suicide. There's more involved here but I don't want to give everything away. Eventually it all ties together, trust me.

Many times I wanted to grab the narrator and say "why?" The choices she always seem to make are at best passive. There are definitely better ways to go but she never seems to go there. Her sister always seems to know the better way but the older sister almost never listens to her. Eventually we realize the younger sister needed someone to listen to her. The older sister doesn't get the message until it's too late for the younger sister. That was difficult to take. I can understand why some avoid stories like this describing how women are often victims.

One tangential part of this story stood out for me. Atwood clearly understands the challenges faced by people as they age to the point where they can no longer do what had been easy for them. Walks get shorter, canes appear, medications need to be attended to daily, falling becomes a constant fear, driving oneself is no longer an option. As a senior all this hit home. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Jul 22, 2023 |
This is the first book by Margaret Atwood I have read, but it probably will not be the last! I just happen to catch a short description of the book and was intrigued enough to get a copy, and I'm glad I did. It has three plot lines interweaving with each other in the book making it hard to put down. It takes place in the present, the past, and on a mythical planet. Sounds crazy, but it all comes together. The characters are not particularly likeable (they made me angry at them at times), but they are very interesting and complex. As you read the book, you are trying to figure out how the stories will connect with each other. And one of the main characters dies in the first sentence of the book! For an interesting and complex novel with very good historical description (takes place in Canada from the 1920s to the present), read "The Blind Assassin". Margaret Atwood is a good storyteller. ( )
  CRChapin | Jul 8, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 371 (next | show all)
Die Lebensgeschichte der Iris hebt sich wohltuend von jenen Romanen ab, die junge Frauen der 'besseren' Gesellschaft nach einer privilegierten Kindheit in ein Erwachsenendasein ohne Brüche und Krisen führen. Dennoch ist es schade, dass Margaret Atwood ihrer Heldin letztlich so wenig 'Mumm' mitgibt - es müssen dreißig Jahre von Iris' Leben vergehen, bis sie zum ersten Mal aufbegehrt.

Margaret Atwood erzählt Iris' und Lauras Geschichte auf drei Ebenen: anhand von Iris' Rückblick, Lauras Manuskript und diversen Zeitungsausschnitten. Atwood hat mit "Der blinde Mörder" nicht nur die Geschichte eines Frauenlebens geschrieben, sondern auch einen historischen Roman, eine Liebesgeschichte, eine Sciencefiction-Story und die Geschichte zweier Schwestern. Sie belohnt das Interesse des Lesers mit einer Geschichte von außergewöhnlicher Dichte, der es gelingt, die sozialen, industriellen und politischen Ereignisse in einer kanadischen Kleinstadt nachzuzeichnen und eine Chronik des 20. Jahrhunderts darzustellen.
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.

» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Atwoodprimary authorall editionscalculated
Belletti, RaffaellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dionne, MargotNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pulice, Mario JCover designersecondary 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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Fiction. Mystery. Science Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML:The bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments weaves together strands of gothic suspense, romance, and science fiction into one utterly spellbinding narrative, beginning with the mysterious death of a young woman named Laura Chase in 1945.

Decades later, Laura??s sister Iris recounts her memories of their childhood, and of the dramatic deaths that have punctuated their wealthy, eccentric family??s history. Intertwined with Iris??s account are chapters from the scandalous novel that made Laura famous, in which two illicit lovers amuse each other by spinning a tale of a blind killer on a distant planet.

These richly layered stories-within-stories gradually illuminate the secrets that have long haunted the Chase family, coming together in a brilliant and astonishing fin

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