Friday, January 14, 2011

Prongs 20th Review : The Blind Assassin

"He was deciding whether to cut her throat or love her forever. Right. Yes. The usual choices."

The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood

As a part of my ’52 books’ project for 2011, I am determined to read titles by authors that I am frankly embarrassed I have never made it too. Margaret Atwood was high up on that list, so I was beyond excited when ‘The Blind Assassin’ was drawn as my first book of the year. Atwood is a celebrated Canadian author with numerous award-winning titles under her literary belt. Almost as an aside to my ‘trying to read new authors’ I am really trying to read more ‘new FEMALE’ authors, since I recently realized that apart from J.K. Rowling…. I have read almost none.

‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.’ The novel starts off with this explosive sentence, and the rest of the novel is the slow delicate process of re-assembling the scattered pieces of the story leading up to that first blast. The largest portion of the novel focuses on the auto-biographical account of Iris Chase, a now elderly woman detailing the history of her and her sister Laura’s complicated relationship. Through her story, we are shown various chapters of Laura’s novel ‘The Blind Assassin’, a story about anonymous lovers conducting a secret affair, which rose to acclaim after the sisters tragic death. Within Laura's novel we are given a thrilling futuristic sci-fi story told by the nameless male to his devoted lover about a ‘blind assassin’ who falls in love with his intended target… a young damaged girl.

"Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth."

The Blind Assassin is meta-fiction at it’s finest, however the beginning can feel a bit disjointed as we are introduced to multiple story layers. This un-comfortableness wears off quickly though as the story progresses and we begin to see the way that the seemingly non-related stories starting to reflect one another both in form and in plot. Small fragments of each story show up in it’s counterparts, giving the entire novel a connected fluid feel, each part working to enhance the substance of the others. If you ever have seen the movie ‘The Fountain’ I wouldn’t be surprised if you found similarities between the film and this story. Both involve 3 separate but intrinsically related stories, working together to tell a much grander story. The idea of interweaving stories is nothing new, but the way Atwood organizes her layers is truly innovative.

"In Paradise there are no stories, because there are no journeys. It's loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward, along its twisted road."

While reading this book it was easy to see why Atwood has risen to such approbation. Her writing is truly ‘crafted’ in a way that only a true talent could pull off. The complicated structure of the story is reflected in the intricate construction of her sentences, each word picked carefully and used with vigilance. I probably could have highlighted the entire book at the rate I started off at.

My only critique of this book is that I was personally so engrossed by the ‘story’ of the blind assassin, that I felt myself rushing to get to the brief points of the novel where his story is progressed forwards. So much of the work is devoted to Iris’s accounts of her and Laura’s childhood that I was becoming impatient to move past their part. However, to Atwood’s credit, what makes the minor characters so unforgettable is the slow account of the main story, giving form and meaning to the others.

Due to its complex nature, I feel that this is the kind of story that deserves multiple readings. Just by flipping back to copy my favorite quotes, I was surprised to notice subtle elements that had snuck it with out my knowledge, waiting for me to come back and find their poignant presence. It is hard to sum up a book that has so much going for it. It is even harder to sum up all of the thoughts that I had working through this title. I was intrigued, frustrated, intimidated, delighted, but above all impressed. From just this first title, I am confident in saying that Atwood is deserving of all the praise that she has received. I look forward to reading more from her.


  1. I really really hope I like this one!

  2. @Amanda - I'm hoping this was a good introduction to her work, since now I am interested to read more. It def was a struggle at first, but I think the pay off was really worth it. I just loved the '3rd layer' of the actual story of 'The Blind Assassin' so much that it made everything else worth it!

  3. I've decided this is going to be my next Atwood book -- I love epistolary fiction and I extra love metafiction when it's done well. Yay!

  4. @Jenny - Glad to hear this review might have some how convinced you to pick up Atwood again!! Love me some metafiction as well. This is pretty much the ultimate.

  5. Great review. I've never actually read Margaret Atwood, but I intend to read one of her novels this year. Personally, I finding her intimidating (I cower at any mention of the word metafiction). :)

  6. @Darlyn - THanks!! Don't let metafiction spook you... it's really a great tool once you get the feel for it. I'm serious about that movie 'The Fountain'. It might not be everyones cup of tea, but if you watch it and can keep up with the 3 rotating story lines... chances are you will do great with Atwood! Keep us updated if you get to her!

  7. I, sadly, remain among those who are "embarrasses to never have read anything" by Atwood. This may finally be the year for me...

  8. Wonderful account of this book! I read it several years ago and it is one of those that has stuck with me through the years. I'd love to revisit it again as like you I felt like I rushed through some of it in anticipation/impatience. I hope you'll read more Atwood. This is my favorite but Robber Bride and Cat's Eye were both good in their own right--of course The Handmaid's Tale, too.


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