Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove her car off a bridge. ~ Opening of Blind Assassin



The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Anchor, 2000
Fiction; 521 pgs

From the Publisher:
More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura's mysterious death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth-century history, The Blind Assassin is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal...
Margaret Atwood was among the authors whose work I wanted to try, but hadn't yet gotten to.  Years ago, my husband recommended I try Blind Assassin.  He thought I might like it.  For some reason, I got it into my head that Blind Assassin was a mystery.  In a way, I suppose it is.  Only, not the kind of mystery I was expecting.  When Carrie added Blind Assassin to her list for the "I've Always Meant to Read That Book!" Challenge, I thought it was as good a time as any.

Admittedly, it took me three months to read this book, but it was not for lack of interest.  Not exactly.  I found myself taking my time as I read it, fully entranced, and yet when I set the book down, I found it a little too easy not to pick up again right away.  Hence the length of time it took me to finish.

I am not sure I can adequately describe what this novel is about.  There are several different story lines running through it; it is almost as if you are reading four different stories at the same time.  And somehow, amazingly, all four come together perfectly in the end.  I was not sure that was possible at first.  You have present day Iris, who is working furiously to finish documenting her life story--the truth of it--which had never been told before.  Within her story, of course, is the story of hers and her sister Laura's childhood, how they grew up and what became of them.  Add to that excerpts of a controversial book Laura wrote which had been published about an illicit affair between a wealthy woman and a down on his luck man on the run.  And within that story, is a science fiction tale about a faraway planet, a kingdom, a blind assassin and a virgin sacrifice.  Interspersed throughout are news clippings relating events that had happened to Iris's prominent family long ago.  Under the layers of each story, the reader gets closer to knowing the truth about what happened to Iris's sister, Laura, and Iris's own family, including her husband and daughter.

Taking the characters through a boom of success to the hardships of the Great Depression and into World War II, Atwood shows them at their best and at their worst. I really felt for Iris's character, both in her younger years and as a lonely elderly woman. She was the older sister, and, when her mother died during their childhood, was instructed to look out for her sister.  Laura was always a little different, more free in thought and always questioning.  With no son, Iris's father expected Iris to step into a son's place in the family business of button factories.  Only, Iris had no talent for or interest in it. Iris is forced to make a difficult decision after her father's death, and as hard as her sister was on her, I felt Iris did the only thing she knew how to do.  She did her best under the circumstances.  We can argue right and left that she should have done more or made different choices, but Iris was Iris.  Iris, just like Laura, was a complex character.

I loved Margaret Atwood's writing.  It begs to be savored.  And while early on I had no idea what was going on or how everything would connect, I soon began to speculate and put things together.  While I can't say I was surprised by the outcome in the end, it all felt so right, the pieces having fallen nicely into place.  

The Blind Assassin was not what I expected, but it was a book I am very glad to have read. This will definitely not be my last Margaret Atwood novel.

Rating:  * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Margaret Atwood and her books on the author's website.

Source: I purchased both an e-copy of the book for my own reading pleasure (and also occasionally opened by husband's print copy of the book).
  

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

26 comments:

  1. I must admit that it took me a long while to be convinced that I'd enjoy this authors works but enjoy it I do.

    Great review, I understand exactly what you mean when you talk about your difficulty in describing this book as it is multi-layered.

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    1. Tracy - I am looking forward to reading something else by her, and I think it will be easier to do now that I've read one of her books. It took me forever to get to this one, considering when my husband first recommended I read it some twenty years ago.

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  2. I get frustrated when I can't follow the arc of a book. I'm kind of intimidated to try Atwood - I have a feeling I'm not smart enough for her books.

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    1. Kathy - I am sure there was a lot I missed reading Blind Assassin with all its layers. And yet I really enjoyed what I did get out of it.

      I know what you mean though about getting frustrated when you can't follow the arc in a book. I had that problem with a couple I've read this year and it hurt my enjoyment of them. I didn't have that problem with this one though, thankfully. While I wasn't sure where it was going at first, it eventually does come together in a way I was able to understand and make sense of.

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  3. I've heard so many great things about Margaret's books, especially this one yet it is the one which I'm hesitating to pick up, even though it's sitting on my shelf for a while. I suppose I'm still intimidated by the plot and most of all, the thickness of the book, lol.

    I guess it's a matter of time I get to it, but currently it's not the time. ;)

    Thanks for the lovely review, Wendy! You've captured the essence of the book very well. :)

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    1. Melody - It is long. My print copy wasn't all that thick in appearance, but the print was so tiny! I ended up reading it in e-book format for convenience sake.

      This definitely is a book I think you have to be in the mood for. It's not a fast read and it does take a lot of attention and focus.

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  4. This one has been on the outskirts of books I think I should read for awhile. It definitely doesn't sound like what I expected it to be but it does sound interesting. I think I'll have to assign myself a time to read it and give it a try. Glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. Katherine - My husband has been telling me for years Blind Assassin was a mystery. I suppose it is in some sense, but I wouldn't classify it as such, not even close.

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  5. I haven't read this one but I've read Atwood before. Dare I say it? Her books don't really pull me in all that much but I appreciate them. If that makes any sense at all.

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    1. Ti - I'm really curious now to try something else by her and see how it compares. And you make perfect sense. :-)

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  6. I haven't read this author but have seen this book all over the place. I'm curious about those storylines all coming together in the end though. Sounds like a book that demands the readers attention. Great review!

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    1. Naida - Yes, it is a book that demanded my focus, which is another reason it took me so long to read it. :-)

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  7. I have only read a few novels by this author, but I agree that her writing is to be savored. I will definitely make sure this book is on my list.

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    1. Irene - I do love her writing and look forward to reading something else by her. I have a few of her books on my shelves--so lots of choices to chose from. Do you have a favorite?

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  8. Atwood has been hit or miss for me, but this one has long been on my list of "must reads.' And yet, I still haven't. She does write beautifully, and your review reminds me again that this is a book I've neglected.

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    1. Jenclair - Blind Assassin is definitely different. I enjoyed it, but I it won't be for everyone.

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  9. I haven't read an Atwood book either even though all her books come highly recommended! This one and another of her books is sitting on my shelves. I agree, now is a good time as any to read it.

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    1. Athira - She's one of those authors I've always felt I "must" read--considered a modern classic author and all that. I'm glad I wasn't disappointed.

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  10. I read this one with Heather from Raging Bibliomania and really enjoyed it. Also, was so grateful to have a reading partner to discuss the book with! I enjoyed it - definitely need to read more by her.

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    1. Aarti - I can see how reading alongside someone else would be a good idea with this one--you can bounce ideas off each other. I'll have to go back and look up your past conversations about this one with Heather. I miss her. I hope she's doing well.

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    1. Stacy - Me too! That's why it took me so long to give her work a try. :-) (And she still intimidates me with one of her books under my belt!)

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  12. I've never read any Margaret Atwood novels, even though I know I should. There's something about her books that intimidates me as a reader. I'm worried it would take me three months to get through half of it and then leave it at that!

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    1. A.M.B. - I feel the same way about her books. Intimidated. At least I now know I like her writing and I do want to read more by her.

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  13. Oooh, another convert to Atwood! I love her novels, but have found that they tend to be VERY different from each other. If you like sci-fi, her Oryx and Crake series is fantastic. I also really enjoyed Alias Grace. But really - they are all such compelling reads. Good stuff!

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    1. Elizabeth - I am excited about that--her books being very different from each other. It makes me even more curious about her other books. I have Oryx and Crake, I believe, and Alias Grace. Hmm. Which one to try next?

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