The Blind Assassin

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source link Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on the Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one, as events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama.

It is Margaret Atwood at her breathtaking best. The other parts of Laura's book are less persuasive; it's easier to imagine such a book making a local scandal at the time of publication, with its relative frankness and society-girl author, than being quoted 50 years later. John Updike has commented on the drawback of multiple time-schemes, multiple narratives in general, the way they lessen the momentum of the whole. A further drawback in the case of The Blind Assassin is that the story's eventful period, all the muted melodrama of abortions and asylums, runs from the mid-Thirties to Laura's suicide 10 years later, while the novel's expansive scheme requires the author to do a lot of filling in.

"The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood

Iris's memoirs, written in the s, contain much philosophical reflection that seems to mark time: 'You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together. But two and two doesn't necessarily get you the truth. Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind. The truth that emerges is, in fact, eminently neat, in a murder-mystery sort of way. The surprises have the effect of further flattening out the characters, the villains becoming blacker, the martyrs yet more devoted.

More of a grey area would be welcome. This all takes place in the years before WW2. The two girls grow up in an idyllic house called Avilion Avalon was the island King Arthur was taken after being wounded and Atwood presents a way of life at Avilion as something equally wounded and on the verge of expiring. Alex Thomas to survive writes pulp fiction for magazines and invents Planet Zycron. For the most part Planet Zycron is pure silliness.

Kind of fun as a narrative Alex makes up while in bed with his lover but wholly implausible as a novel that has received critical acclaim and is still in print fifty years later. Sometimes it reminds me of the literary equivalent of elderly people wearing teenage clothes. Like this this observation which starts off great but ends up like chewing gum. They hurt themselves instead; or else they do it so the guy doesn't even know he's been hurt until much later. Then he finds out. Then his dick falls off. Or else using a metaphor that is so wacky that it creates more confusion than clarity - as when bread is described as ''white and soft and flavorless as an angel's buttock.

Impossible to take serious. Ditto, his sister Winnifred. A pair of 19th century monsters in a 20th century novel. Ironically it also serves to make you like Iris, his wife, less. The problem is all the clutter heaped around this fascinating central theme. View all 26 comments. Shelves: historical-fiction , postmodern-lit , reviews-most-liked , lit-canadian. The story is its own spoiler. First off, this novel is in no way a science fiction novel, even though that phrase is seen now and then in reviews. Well, are you confused yet?

The novel is actually an evocative historical novel, about a family in Canada, starting in the nineteenth century, building a modest empire of button factories, whose granddaughters are Iris and Laura, growing up in the early years of the twentieth century. The story and its characters the ones that survive move through the first World War, the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary, the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, the second World War, and several decades further for the luckiest?

We gradually learn more about these two girls, their parents, and the men they become involved with. And new obscurities pop up, casting a veil over things that seemed clear earlier on. Most of the characters are a little bit off, not really dangerous, but finely drawn to make this reader feel unsure whether he would want to know such people. The women are either mistreated quite severely, or mistreat others in that way particularly other women. As the story progresses, both it and the narrators turn more and more inward, things becoming ever more surreal, little left of their lives but memories, anticipations, wishes, fears, pain.

Much of the narrative actually occurs within dreams. She imagines him dreaming of her, as she is dreaming of him.


Through a sky the color of wet slate they fly towards each other on dark invisible wings, searching, searching, doubling back, drawn by hope and longing, baffled by fear. They fall to earth, fouled parachutists, botched and cindery angels, love streaming out behind them like torn silk. Enemy groundfire comes up to meet them.

How would she wrap this tale up? Not a happy ending really, but weepy fellow that I am, she never wrote anything that made me tear up until a single sentence on the final page. Then I was overcome. A great, great story. Feb 05, Fabian rated it it was amazing. If you want a thinner kind, look elsewhere This book, my friends, is what that century-old "stick with it" rule applied to literature is all about. Even the writer herself knows that the anesthetic fog of it all must come to a halt--she has you exactly where she wants you--and knowing that the brave reader indeed braves on, she rewards him with the most elegant, the most perfect ending EVER!

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‘The Blind Assassin’ is Brilliant (Book Review)

Because we are addicted to getting slapped in the face by genuine beauty. View all 10 comments. The first pages are somewhat dense and chewy and I struggled to settle into the plot, but once certain bits are uncovered, it all comes together beautifully. Glenda Fantastic review Fabian. I have read 'The Handmaid's Tale' and I really don't like dystopian types of novels so, therefore, I didn't love it like the Fantastic review Fabian. I have read 'The Handmaid's Tale' and I really don't like dystopian types of novels so, therefore, I didn't love it like the rest of my friends did.

The fact that it is a lengthy book doesn't deter me at all. I like your review and the synopsis I have read and may very well give this one a try. In this novel, a mystery is slowly revealed through the narration of an older, eighty-something year old Iris as she reflects on her childhood and her days of marriage to the powerful and manipulative Richard Griffen and his sister, Winifred. From the start, we know that Iris had a sister who died suddenly - "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.

Using a combination of newspaper clippings and a memoir of sorts as Iris writes her life story in a diary, the reader becomes privy to these events in what feels like a very intimate setting. Iris begins her retelling of these events with little anecdotes thrown in from her present day life - usually bits of grumbling or complaints in the fashion of the bitter old lady stereotype. For the most part, these were amusing and lightened up the tone of the book from time to time.

My favorite portions of this novel were those that retold the childhood of both Iris and Laura. Iris talks of her grandparents, her parents, and the family home called Avilion. I loved her description of her grandmother: "The planning and decoration of this house were supervised by my Grandmother Adelia.

She died before I was born, but from what I've heard she was as smooth as silk and as cool as a cucumber, but with a will like a bone saw. Also she went in for Culture, which gave her a certain moral authority. It wouldn't now; but people believed, then, that Culture could make you better - a better person. They believed it could uplift you, or the women believed it.

They hadn't yet seen Hitler at the opera house. Alex Thomas becomes acquainted with the Chase girls and their family, against the better judgment of their devoted housekeeper, Reenie. Reenie is perhaps my favorite character! Responsible for the majority of the Chase girls' upbringing, she dished out some priceless advice! To this lover he narrates a "story within a story" titled "The Blind Assassin". I have to admit that these sections of the book were my least favorite. Alex fabricates a science fiction adventure based on the planet Zycron.

Initially this was quite confusing. Once the confusion faded, I became slightly irritated, despite my curiosity as to the identity of the lover. By the end of Iris' narrative, the seemingly distinct portions of this novel become clear and an interesting twist comes to light.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to fans of Atwood or those who like a slowly paced mystery with some good historical elements. I personally would have preferred not to be subjected to the details of the pulp-fiction type sci-fi story despite the fact that I came to understand its purpose. Impressively hefty, but convinces me ultimately that Atwood has written much better books. An elderly woman remembers her life. The story flickers between present, past and pulp science fiction view spoiler [ bah!

That's just everyday life, you are probably saying hide spoiler ]. She remembers: her lover, a hack writer of pulp science fiction and political radical. Her husband, an industrialist with dubious sexual tastes view spoiler [ ie illegal in many jurisdictions hide spoiler ] and habits Impressively hefty, but convinces me ultimately that Atwood has written much better books. Her husband, an industrialist with dubious sexual tastes view spoiler [ ie illegal in many jurisdictions hide spoiler ] and habits.

Her sister, artistic but inarticulate. Her sister-in-law, a grand dame and prepared to defend her family reputation. Her father, WWI veteran, failed industrialist, troubled soul and suicide, his lover an artist. The mysterious book that scandalised society and has won fans to the present day that apparently her sister wrote. Their lives are intertwined. The atmosphere shifts from the free to the oppressive. The reader feels some pieces drop into place and searches for others.

It is all very nicely done, one experiences unease and uncertainty, and says "a-ha" to oneself at the right moments, it has something of the feel of a fin de siecle painting to it, the symbolism at first obscure, then in a heartbeat, heavy handed and obvious.

At the centre of the story I am reminded of lines from King Lear half forgotten from school: Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold, And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks. I feel a good degree of regret at this book, as well as a certain sympathy towards it, it works very hard, it is skilful and clever, but the more it goes on, the more it reminds me that Atwood has impressed me more elsewhere. I am haunted by the central apex of childhood bullying in Cat's eye , warmly amused by by the attempts to understand the crime in Alias Grace.

This for me just wasn't visceral, perhaps it is too obvious from the structure that there will be a train crash and as one gets closer what will cause it, the extent of the fatalities and the lasting injuries of the survivors are too predictable? Of course you say, it is meant to be a tragedy.

View all 23 comments. Jan 29, Alice rated it it was ok Shelves: read-in It was The writing was really great, but everything else kind of bored me -- the characters, the plot, the novel within the novel within the novel. By the time the book worked itself up to its climax, I had long since lost interest.

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I was just trying to plod through and finish the thing. At times, I was more eager to find out what happened to the blind assassin and the girl without Having absolutely loved Atwood's "A Handmaid's Tale," I decided to try out "The Blind Assassin. At times, I was more eager to find out what happened to the blind assassin and the girl without a tongue in the sacrificial temple than I was to find out what was really going on between the Chase sisters.

While I found Atwood's passages about old age and mortality touchingly beautiful, I also found them repetitive. This book took me over a week to finish. That's evidence of something View all 9 comments. 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. I had long been intrigued by this book because of the cover - it looks very stylish - but I had no idea what the book w "They ache like history: things long done with, that still reverberate as pain.

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.

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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. However, from each memory, we also get this sense that there is much more to the story, that Iris is teasing our patience. That would have saved a lot of trouble. 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. Nowadays they do some of it in French, which once would have been unheard of. 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 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. 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. Back into obscurity. Back into the long shadow cast by Laura. But the old wound has split open, the invisible blood pours forth. Margaret Atwood is a literary deity. I enjoy how the various elements of the book eventually come together.

And yet It feels overly conceptualized. Instead of a beating heart it's got a pacemaker. And it could have used a more ruthless editor. The complex narrative consists of several strands. The main one is narrated by Iris Chase Griffen, who grew up the daughter of a prominent Port Ticonderoga family and then, at 18, was basically pawned off by her father to become the wife of a powerful industrialist with political aspirations. Was it suicide? Foul play? Something in between? Over the next pages, crisscrossing decades and taking many detours via automobile, train and luxury cruise ship — and even some interplanetary travel — the story arrives, haltingly, at its destination.

It was published, posthumously, under the name Laura Chase in , became a bestseller and made her a celebrity. Gradually the various strands of the book come together in a satisfying, if not always surprising, way. The writing is poetic yet occasionally overblown. It no longer had the courage of its own pretensions. Boulder in stream of time? But do we also need it to be "dog-eared," "apologetic," "collapsing" and lacking in "courage"?

All in one mixed metaphor paragraph? There are some big blanks in the narrative. Her beauty? Surely there were other prominent families he — and his snobbish sister, Winifred, one of Atwood's wickedest villains — could attach himself to. Surely they would want to ensure the Griffen heir was Richard's.

He remains a cardboard cutout. I know that. Even at the time he appeared to me smaller than life, although larger than life as well. Hmm… Is this an old woman, Iris, explaining her ambivalent relationship to her husband? Speaking of characters, a few seem abandoned by the roadside. There are pages and pages about fashions, luxury voyages and who was dancing with whom at what party, but the entire second world war is ridiculously glossed over in a page or two near the end, as if Atwood realized she had to wrap things up quickly.

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She opens chapters by describing the weather, bitching about her physical mobility or some other complaint, and then continues where she left off. But I do like that the book illustrates her finding her voice: in real life and in setting down her story. I would have believed them more had Atwood written them in a more convincing period style. Surely a pastiche, between-the-wars style would have made the book more credible.

I also can't believe it would have been a bestseller. So: a mixed bag. Nice period details. Ambitious scope. And in Iris, Atwood has created a delightfully crusty, entertaining and fascinatingly unreliable guide. View all 25 comments. This novel is a crazy ice meteor shot through the heart of a Virginia Woolf novel. The further you get into it, the more your fingers feel every fiber on every rough cut page.

You don't just begin to smell the book; page after page, you almost begin to taste the ink. Atwood doesn't write from the head, the crotch or the gut. She soul-butts you. Her words bite and kick your trash on every level. View all 6 comments. Aug 23, James rated it it was amazing. It gives us a narrative that on the face of it does not appear very original. Indeed there are many elements to this story that we have all seen or read many times before. However, what Atwood has created here is a hugely accomplished and engaging novel of epic proportions and Dickensian scale.

Whilst occasionally this can be a little confusing is this deliberate? Life and memories can be confusing? Straight edges and straight stories can become blurred over time?

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Atwood however retains a focus throughout. This is a finely honed novel in spite of its length and complexity. There is no dead wood here, nothing extraneous to our needs. We have here a novel that is both compelling and engaging, a definite page-turner right up to the closing paragraphs.

What might seem in some sense a very clear-cut and straightforward denouement and climax to the novel — there are no real surprises at this stage, but what we do have are the final and satisfying pieces of the jigsaw s. This is the kind of novel that stays with the reader long after the final page has been read. It is the kind of novel that would benefit from rereading and the deeper understanding and enjoyment that would undoubtedly come with that. This is an Atwood novel not to be missed and not to be given up on.

I suspect it is the type of novel that has grown and will continue to grow in reputation and standing with the passing of time. View all 5 comments. May 18, Bill Khaemba rated it it was amazing Shelves: cultural , classic , contemporary-adult-realism , mystery , science-fiction , world-book-night , historical-fiction. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise, you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.

I am afraid that this will be another gushing review and I can't wait to dive in and pour out my love for this book. 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.

You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away.

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You're your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things, and people too—leave them behind. You don't yet know about the habit they have, of coming back. Time in dreams is frozen. You can never get away from where you've been. This will definitely be those books that I will always go back to, Atwood's writing will forever haunt me and I am definitely planning to tackle some if not all of her books. I highly recommend you pick up one of her books she is quickly becoming a favorite : What do other Atwood books you recommend? View all 8 comments. This has brought my definition of a five star book into dramatic focus.

All other books must now be compared to this one. Not after this. It spans the better part of a century, and one of the main characters dies on the first page. The story is woven together with what remains, as if someone had found an old steamer trunk of documents and journals in an attic, and assembled them in the most natural order.


The Blind Assassin is a novel by the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. It was first published by McClelland and Stewart in Set in Canada, it is narrated. The Blind Assassin book. Read reviews from the world's largest community for readers. Margaret Atwood takes the art of storytelling to new heights.

This book easily breached all my defenses to tug at my heart strings, twist my emotions, and disembowel me. All of that good stuff. But it also just blew me away with its technical brilliance.

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