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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2001-07-30) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1730
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I am reluctant to touch on the plot at all because doing so could upset a reader's experience. Suffice it to say, the novel focuses on a portion of the lives of two Canadian sisters in the interwar period. A key driver is their gradually deteriorating financial circumstances.
Structurally, the novel is ambitious, and gives us the piecemeal composition of three different books, albeit sometimes obliquely. There is a mystery of sorts and the reveals occur only vaguely. The reader kind of realizes that he or she has known a crucial thing for some number of pages, and came to know it at exactly the appropriate time.
I haven't read the other books that were nominated for the Booker Prize in 2000 but that this won is not surprising. It is both complex and accessible, which is not an easy feat.
If I thought summarizing the book up was hard, I can say that telling you why I loved this book is equally difficult. It’s no secret that Atwood has a way with words and is able to weave a complex story with complete ease, but she is also able to foster empathy for misunderstood characters. Atwood manages to recreate a world where the suppression of women is commonplace, but not evil, while at the same time punctuating the story with little rebellions by strong women. Feminism in the 1930’s was of a very different variety than today and Atwood‘s ability to capture both the the reality of the times and the subtle ways women rebelled is nothing short of stunning.
Much of the main story of "The Blind Assassin" is told through long interior monologues by 83-year-old Iris. Iris is a sharp observer who can be very witty and whose wisdom is hard-won, but Atwood's detailing of her routines, like endless trips to the donut shop (with long meditations on donut holes), tried this reader's patience. On the other hand, when all of the pieces of the puzzle came together at the end of the book, I had a definite "Oh, wow" moment and found much to contemplate: the vulnerability of youth; the scars of family life; generational change; love and responsibility; fate vs. will/agency; memory and regret; blindness (whether willful or thoughtless); the burdens of old age; and how it is that some of us make it and some of us don't. "The Blind Assassin" could have been 100 pages shorter but it certainly has something to say to everyone.
Top reviews from other countries
The writing is exquisite, each detail and description thoughtful and showing the fertility of Atwood’s imagination.
Iris Chase is remembering her sister Laura’s mysterious death, 50 years after the event. I loved Iris’s voice. Her dry humour and way of commenting on her life both now and in the past was amusing and entertaining to read.
Set against the backdrop of 20th century social history this is the story of two sisters, their secrets and is fascinating throughout.
Being a Booker Prize winner it doesn’t need me to recommend it but I do because it was recommended to me and I’m thankful for that.
I have read several novels by this author and enjoyed them very much so was disappointed I found this one so difficult.
The main problem is the confusion that she seems to be determined to display throughout the book, the story winds around the assassin through the news reports and an elderly lady looking back over her life.
The book seems to be overlong although I think there is a great story in there if you can put aside all the extraneous detail and unnecessary complications. I think that Margaret Attwood needed a stronger editor while she was working on this book.
On a more positive note, the writing itself is beautiful and it's worth trying to read the book for that alone but make sure you've got plenty of time.