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The Blind Assassin


Hilary
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I'm about a third of the way through The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I found it on a church bookstall for 20p and as the Handmaid's Tale had been in the study list for my degree I bought it. It has *some* similarities in style and subject to the Handmaid's Tale but if you didn't know they were written by the same person you probably wouldn't notice. I wouldn't anyway.

 

To be honest, I am not sure what I'm making of it so far. It apparently won the Booker Prize and I usually find Booker prize winners odd reads. Maybe that's just me? I'm not really 'into' it yet and I can't really see me getting into it properly though it may surprise me.

 

I am posting here not because I have anything in particular to say about it but to ask if any of you had read it and if so what you made of it. I have a sneaking suspicion it's greatness is eluding me.

 

And *now* I can't work out if that apostrophe is right...it's a bad day!

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Myself and two friends read this at about the same time (not for a book club). Two of us were quite engrossed by it and one not. We were quite impatient with the futuristic story element and rushed through or skipped those parts.

 

One friend said she'd guessed all the secrets quite quickly: I didn't.

 

Atwood herself has said that it's not one of her best novels and was surprised it won the Booker, in the same way that Ian McEwan's far from best book Amsterdam won that prize.

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There was a pre-crash thread on The Blind Assassin, but it doesn't seem to have been rescued. Here's what I wrote (pulled from another website):

 

 

 

 

This is the first novel that I’ve read by Margaret Atwood, and it won’t be the last. For the most part, the story is a chronicle of Iris Griffen (nee Chase), starting from World War One and finishing off near the close of the 20th century.

 

The characterization in this novel is among the best I’ve ever read. The bulk of the story, delivered primarily through flashbacks, centers around Iris–but we also come to an understanding of her younger sister, Laura, whose suicide is mentioned right away in the opening sentence. What follows is an in-depth portrait of two sisters and their relationships, not only with each other, but with the forces at work around them. We come to have a very personal understanding of Iris, not only as a young woman, but also as she ages and continues to pull herself together after her sister’s suicide, when her life really starts to fall apart. Her life is presented with such rich detail that she becomes a real grandmother to the reader.

 

Another feature of the novel is its format: a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. There are three stories at play: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, which is the overall story of Iris; “The Blind Assassin by Laura Chase”, a novel-within-a-novel, which tells of a love affair between a writer and a woman; and, “The Blind Assassin by [sci-fi writer's name]”, a science fiction story that this writer is telling to his lover. All three of these stories are wonderfully blended together to give a full picture of the events surrounding, not only the two Chase sisters, but the social unrest leading up to World War Two.

 

The only thing that I didn’t particularly care for was the narrative style, which at times became rather choppy and fragmented. I like longer, more flowing sentences, but Atwood has a habit of throwing one- or two-word sentences into the mix, of which I’m not a fan. Having said that, she is also very descriptive, and her use of language, both to paint a picture or to drive a point home, is very vivid.

 

The beauty of this novel is that it doesn’t wallow in self-pity, nor is it overly sentimental; it tells us the story in a beautiful, logical, sensible way, which is both entertaining and thought-provoking. It isn’t straight forward, so a great deal of work must be done to place the events in the correct order and to glean the correct understanding, especially regarding “The Blind Assassin by Laura Chase” and the science fiction story within it. If I had to pick some major themes, I’d say infidelity and aging, but there are numerous discussions on many issues. It is truly a brilliant novel, and a highly rewarding reading experience.

 

 

 

 

Clearly, I liked the novel. The story-within-a-story-within-a-story was one of my favorite parts, and it is important later. Even if you don't understand it now, you'll need to remember the highlights for when everything is revealed. If you pay close attention, you'll even figure out the twist at the end. I found this to be the intrigue element in the novel, and it kept me hooked trying to figure out it's relationship and meaning: some personal, some social. If you really need a slight spoiler just to keep you interested, I'll give you this little one:

I'm not really going to give you a spoiler because I think it's much more fun to figure it out for oneself, but please tell me if you looked in here.

 

 

Like the others, I'll say stick with it. You've read some of her others, so clearly this kind of literature appeals to you.

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I honestly really, really disliked this book so much I don't know where to begin. I felt the same about the Handmaid's Tale. The futuristic element for me just doesn't work. I don't find it profound, political in any kind of interesting way and am wondering why Attwood gets the accolades she does. I loved Alias Grace and have read other Attwood stuff to try and 'get it' as it were and I am still, with the exception of AG, non-plussed. The Handmaid's Tale is disturbing, sure. But it is a kind of pseudo feminist sci-fi load of old balls that I would expect from an imaginative A'level student in creative writing. Having said that I can't stand Jeanette Winterson either although when she's not launching into her fantasy efforts at some kind of feminist magical realism she can write wonderfully - ie. the bits about her own background as a lesbian teenager in Oranges are not the Only Fruit. Maybe it's the genre rather than the authors I have a problem with. I dunno really suffice to say I would never read another Attwood if you forced me to ... well, I suppose if you forced me to but I would look forward to it like a cold bath.

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I read this book - and honestly, I can hardly remember any of it. It's always that way with me and Atwood. I think she is highly over-rated and doesn't know how to end a book properly. That's always my feeling coming away from reading something of hers - flat ending, didn't seem to know what to do with what she had written. And while I can enjoy reading it to begin with, I have now learned my lesson and am staying away from her.

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I love Margret Atwood so I'm coming at this from a biased point of view but please stick with the book. The story does start slowly but I found myself becoming more and more engaged with it. It is quite a while since I last read it but I do recall it kept me on my toes concentrating on the story within a story.

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I have just read your 'spoiler' now I have finished the book, slowrain...you naughty thing!! Haha!

 

I need your help though...I got all the way through. And then there was a really significant bit which explained everything...and I didn't understand it. I was horrified. I read it about twenty times and then had to carry on and hope I caught up somehow. I didn't ever really feel that I did. :(

 

So can any of you help me?

 

When Laura has died and Iris finds the notebooks bundled in a drawer, she opens them and one has a list of dates and words in it. The words are:

 

Avilion, no. No. No. Sunnyside. No. Xanadu, no. No. Queen Mary, no no. New York, no. Avilion. No at first. Water Nixie, X.. "Besotted." Toronto again. X. X. X. X. X. O.

 

I can sort of see what it alludes to...but not how she reads it and says 'everything was known, it had been in front of my eyes all along' and all that. It didn't really spell out enough for me for her to be so certain. Did I miss something?

 

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Like you've probably guessed, it refers to the different times that Iris's husband (I forget his name) propositioned Laura, the times that she refused, and then the times that she compromised. Were there any hints? I think so. I wasn't really surprised, and I think it was the time on the boat (the Water Nixie?) that clued me in. Why would two people who seem to loathe each other so much go out on a boat together alone? That just didn't make sense to me. Then it got me thinking a little more about why Laura hated Iris's husband so much.

 

If I'm not mistaken, the 'O' probably refers to Laura being pregnant, another aspect of the novel that should have made us suspicious because of what she was saying in the asylum.

 

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Yes, I did kind of guess by her reaction towards him and how it changed. At first she left a room if he was in it, and then Iris noticed that Richard left a room if she was in it...and it did kind of suggest that. And then when it said she was pregnant I did think it was his rather than Alex's. Also, the names of the places in the list were all times when Laura had been with them.

 

The bit I didn't guess until quite near the end, though I did guess it before I was told, was that Iris had written the book. I worked out the fact that they had sort of 'swapped places' in some way or other from quite early on...at first I wondered whether it was as huge as the fact that Iris had died in the car and Laura went on living her sister's life but I soon worked out the swap wasn't as big as that.

 

 

Thanks for your help, slowrain, it is the sort of book that you want to chew over a bit afterwards with someone.

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had a look on google but to no avail, don't know if i'm looking properly... :confused:
It looks very much as though Google has now discarded everything from that period.

We got an awful lot back, but I wish I'd persevered a bit longer with trawling for missing threads. I would have, if I'd realised that it would all be gone so soon...but I was finding it pretty tiring, especially after restoring 50+ pages of 'Currently Reading" :burnout:

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I found this book to be difficult to really get into. A lot of the modern writers that I really like seem to write more and more esoteric books that make you say "wah?" the later in their careers. I find Margaret Atwood is definately one of these writers. I love most of her early work like The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye, but I am still trying to read Oryx and Crake after owning it for two years. The Blind Assassin is not on my reread list while many other of Margaret Atwood's works are.

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What are your overall thoughts on the novel?

 

It was slow and twisting and clever. It took me ages to feel I had got into it; all the ducking into the futuristic story left me a bit cold, I'm afraid. But I loved the characterisations of Iris and Laura and, to some degree, Richard and Reenie. I loved the way you could read into the innocent observations Iris makes about her life some of the stuff going on underneath the surface. I think that some of the seemingly innocent observations early on which turn out to be deeply significant were clever and I would need a second reading to feel I had really got a handle on the novel as a whole.

 

However, I felt a bit disappointed also. I haven't read the Handmaid's Tale for years but I remember being captivated by it and that just didn't happen with this one. It was a little bit *too* disjointed for me.

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Hi Everyone! I've jus signed up here - what a great site!

 

Anyways I've started reading 'The Blind Assassin' - it seems ages ago now. I did give up at one point but i felt i needed to read it, so more recently, I picked it up again.

It is interesting to hear other people's opinions and I'm glad it's not just me that finds the novel within a novel format hard going.

 

The main reason I picked this book was because it was top of the list in a 'recommended reading list' on the back page of a novel i had just finished reading! (The Shadow Of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon) What a great book that was! I really enjoyed that and so thought the logical thing to do would be to try one of the recommended books that was listed there. I've never read any Atwood stuff before and i have to say I'm finding it a hard read, and nothing like the writing style of Zafon.

 

I like Iris' telling of the story - narrating, but the science fiction parts really odd. However I have a long way to go yet!

 

I will read the spoiler when i finish the book - no doubt I'll need it to explain half of what happens!!! lol.

 

Any other opinions/views on this read??

 

 

 

Amy :)

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  • 1 year later...

My third Margaret Atwood novel, consciously chosen based on advice from the "Oryx and Crake" thread I started after reading that last year. Good call from those who recommended it, as I can now say I am a Margaret Atwood fan.

 

From that arresting first line, this is a real slow burner of a novel that rewards patient reading. The structure seems convoluted but get to the end and one understands why Atwood chose to construct the novel in this manner. As I listened to it on audiobook, I thought I'd struggle with it, but actually it was no problem at all.

 

For me, it is Iris's narrative voice that made the novel, as did Snowman's in "Oryx and Crake". Cantankerous old Iris seemed very rounded and real to me as she unsentimentally unfolds the depressing details of her life.

 

As a vintage sci-fi reader myself, I didn't find the novel within a novel intimidating, it's actually a very good pastiche of mid-20th century sci-fi writing.

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I can now say I am a Margaret Atwood fan.

EXCELLENT NEWS!! :banana:

 

And all the others still to come, lucky you...! Don't stop now!

 

And don't forget the short-story collection Wilderness Tips. The other two collections (Dancing Girls and Bluebeard's Egg) are rather less accomplished.

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I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Grammath. It's probably my favourite book...ever!

 

Unlike nearly everyone else who has read it, I liked the sci-fi book-within-the-book the best of all and often used to read it and re-read it and think what I'd give to be able to write like that (though I am not a sci-fi fan). Now I know that most people disliked that bit, I wonder whether I'm deluded.

 

Others I have read of hers and liked - apart from 'Oryx and Crake; and 'The Handmaid's Tale' - are 'Alias Grace' and 'The Robber Bride'. I often think about the characters in the latter, which to me is the sign of a good book.

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For me, it is Iris's narrative voice that made the novel, as did Snowman's in "Oryx and Crake". Cantankerous old Iris seemed very rounded and real to me as she unsentimentally unfolds the depressing details of her life.

It's hard for me to pick out one quality of Atwood's writing that I value more than the others, but if I had to I would definitely go with voice. She is just so good at establishing and maintaining those aspects of the narrative voice of each novel that there's no one I can think of to equal her.

 

Did you say you've read 'The Handmaid's Tale'? That was my first Atwood - I suspect this is true of many women of my generation. It still chills me.

 

Ofmyself ;)

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  • 3 months later...
Yes, it's the story within a story which is putting me off. I'm really trying not to skip them but not succeeding very well...

 

ditto - however this was my first Atwood and I loved it so much I gave copies to friends I thought would appreciate it and went on to read Handmaid's tale, Cat's Eye (which upset me - I don't like bullying) and Robber Bride (what a Beatch!)

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