The Blind Assassin

by Margaret Atwood

Hardcover, 2000

Call number



Nan A. Talese (2000), Edition: 1st ed. in the U.S.A, 544 pages


Fiction. Mystery. Science Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML:The bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments weaves together strands of gothic suspense, romance, and science fiction into one utterly spellbinding narrative, beginning with the mysterious death of a young woman named Laura Chase in 1945. Decades later, Laura�s sister Iris recounts her memories of their childhood, and of the dramatic deaths that have punctuated their wealthy, eccentric family�s history. Intertwined with Iris�s account are chapters from the scandalous novel that made Laura famous, in which two illicit lovers amuse each other by spinning a tale of a blind killer on a distant planet. These richly layered stories-within-stories gradually illuminate the secrets that have long haunted the Chase family, coming together in a brilliant and astonishing final twist.… (more)

Media reviews

Die Lebensgeschichte der Iris hebt sich wohltuend von jenen Romanen ab, die junge Frauen der 'besseren' Gesellschaft nach einer privilegierten Kindheit in ein Erwachsenendasein ohne Brüche und Krisen führen. Dennoch ist es schade, dass Margaret Atwood ihrer Heldin letztlich so wenig 'Mumm'
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mitgibt - es müssen dreißig Jahre von Iris' Leben vergehen, bis sie zum ersten Mal aufbegehrt. Margaret Atwood erzählt Iris' und Lauras Geschichte auf drei Ebenen: anhand von Iris' Rückblick, Lauras Manuskript und diversen Zeitungsausschnitten. Atwood hat mit "Der blinde Mörder" nicht nur die Geschichte eines Frauenlebens geschrieben, sondern auch einen historischen Roman, eine Liebesgeschichte, eine Sciencefiction-Story und die Geschichte zweier Schwestern. Sie belohnt das Interesse des Lesers mit einer Geschichte von außergewöhnlicher Dichte, der es gelingt, die sozialen, industriellen und politischen Ereignisse in einer kanadischen Kleinstadt nachzuzeichnen und eine Chronik des 20. Jahrhunderts darzustellen.
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Margaret Atwood poses a provocative question in her new novel, "The Blind Assassin." How much are the bad turns of one's life determined by things beyond our control, like sex and class, and how much by personal responsibility? Unlike most folks who raise this question so that they can wag their
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finger -- she's made her bed, and so on -- Atwood's foray into this moral terrain is complex and surprising. Far from preaching to the converted, Atwood's cunning tale assumes a like-minded reader only so that she can argue, quite persuasively, from the other side.
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In her tenth novel, Margaret Atwood again demonstrates that she has mastered the art of creating dense, complex fictions from carefully layered narratives, making use of an array of literary devices - flashbacks, multiple time schemes, ambiguous, indeterminate plots - and that she can hook her
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readers by virtue of her exceptional story-telling skills. The Blind Assassin is not a book that can easily be put to one side, in spite of its length and the fact that its twists and turns occasionally try the patience; yet it falls short of making the emotional impact that its suggestive and slippery plot at times promises.
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Ms. Atwood's absorbing new novel, ''The Blind Assassin,'' features a story within a story within a story -- a science-fiction yarn within a hard-boiled tale of adultery within a larger narrative about familial love and dissolution. The novel is largely unencumbered by the feminist ideology that
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weighed down such earlier Atwood novels as ''The Edible Woman'' and ''The Handmaid's Tale,'' and for the most part it is also shorn of those books' satiric social vision. In fact, of all the author's books to date, ''The Blind Assassin'' is most purely a work of entertainment -- an expertly rendered Daphne du Maurieresque tale that showcases Ms. Atwood's narrative powers and her ardent love of the Gothic.
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In her ingenious new tale of love, rivalry, and deception, The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood interweaves several genres — a confessional memoir, a pulp fantasy novel, newspaper clippings — to tease out the secrets behind the 1945 death of 25-year-old socialite Laura Chase.
Nearly 20 years ago, in speaking of her craft, the novelist Margaret Atwood observed that ''a character in a book who is consistently well behaved probably spells disaster for the book.'' She might have asserted the more general principle that consistent anything in a character can prove tedious.
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If we apply the old Forsterian standard that round characters are ones ''capable of surprising in a convincing way,'' Atwood's new novel, for all its multilayered story-within-a-story-within-a-story construction, must be judged flat as a pancake. In ''The Blind Assassin,'' overlong and badly written, our first impressions of the dramatis personae prove not so much lasting as total.
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Margaret Atwood is the literary world’s greatest stunt woman. She leaps from heights, crashes through walls, and flies through flames that more prudent writers would never dare.

The title of her latest book, The Blind Assassin, announces its recklessness right up front. It’s a killer novel,
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all right, but it can see exactly where it’s going, even when we can’t.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Cait86
Attention all LTers: read this book.

Don't put it on the bottom of your TBR, don't list it as a book to read next year, don't forget about it - read it soon. Do not despair when the plot seems to lag. Appreciate the beauty of the language, the well constructed paragraphs of prose that flow like no
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other author's truly can. Push through the first 100 pages. Revel in the last 550.

I will be honest - I resisted the urge to like Margaret Atwood, and I resisted this book. I read Alias Grace earlier this year and loved it, yet I was hesitant to believe in the genius that is Atwood. I don't know why - I generally love Canadian authors, and read as many as I can. Maybe it is because Atwood has such a reputation for greatness, and I was worried I would be disappointed. Maybe it is because she is one of those love-them or hate-them authors, and I, being a bit rebellious at times, wanted to belong to the "hate" camp. Maybe it is because her books start slowly. Whatever the reason, I read the first 100 pages of The Blind Assassin weeks ago, and then stopped. I just could not get into it.

Then yesterday I picked it up again - and read the remaining 550 pages in one day. It would have been one sitting, except I needed to eat dinner. I know a lot of us have 50-page rules, but please, give this book 100 pages. After all, it is a big book, so percentage-wise, it deserves that you persevere. If you do, I think you will love it. In fact, it just may be one of those books that changes the way you think about the world.

Plot Summary: The Blind Assassin actually has four plots. Atwood uses a framing narrative, which is a structure or a story within a story within a story. Generally, these stories all fit together to prove some larger point. Think of Frankenstein, which is first a series of letters, then the story of Victor, then the story of the Creature, then the story of Felix and Safie. Or Wuthering Heights, which is actually a story told by Lockwood, who hears it from Nelly. I love framing narratives, and Atwood's is quite complex. First, we have Iris, our main narrator, who at eighty is trying to write down her life, to pass on to her absent granddaughter. We read about her daily struggles to remain independent, and her interactions with Myra and Walter, friends of her family who take care of her. Then, Iris tells us the story of her youth - of her childhood at Avilion, her younger sister Laura, and the ruin wreaked by the Great Depression. Laura, who was always an odd child, committed suicide in 1945. After she died, Iris found a manuscript of a short novel that Laura had written, and decided to have it published. This novel is The Blind Assassin. Chapters of The Blind Assassin serve as the third level of the narrative, and revolve around a young couple having a secret affair. The final level of the framing narrative is a science fiction story, which the couple in The Blind Assassin write together when they manage to meet.

Atwood moves between these four narratives perfectly - whenever you are becoming very involved in one, she switches to the next. In this way, the reader is constantly on her toes, wondering which story is coming next, trying to keep the events separate. However, it soon becomes clear that these four narratives are not separate, but very intertwined. Is the woman in The Blind Assassin Laura? Is her novel about her own experiences? Who is the man? Why did Laura kill herself? How did Iris, once a very rich woman, come to live alone, poor, with a granddaughter who refuses to see her? As Iris' story moves closer to the outbreak of WWII, the forces in her life seem at war as well - and death, betrayal, and catastrophe are looming.

In case I haven't been clear enough, let me say it again: this book is brilliant. The writing is beautiful, Iris is a complex, well-drawn character, and the narratives weave together towards an ending that is surprising, intense, and moving. The greatest strength of this book, and of Atwood in general, is the fact that her characters are not grand people doing noble deeds. Iris is ordinary, she makes many mistakes, and her life is, on the surface, not very exciting. She is true to life, and it is our ability to believe in her and her relationships - our ability to see that we too, would make the same mistakes, feel the same feelings, cause the same harm - that makes this book a genuine masterpiece.
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LibraryThing member emily_morine
I know she's one of the Most Important Living Novelists and everything, but historically I've been kind of lukewarm about Margaret Atwood's work. The Handmaid's Tale is obviously important to read, and makes a point with which I agree, but it makes it in a way that feels like being hit over the
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head with a shovel. The only other Atwood novel I've read - The Edible Woman - left me similarly unsatisfied. So I was especially glad that I decided to give The Blind Assassin a chance, because oh man, I loved it. It was one of those books that I cursed every morning for keeping me up until one in the morning, even when I knew I had to get up at six. And then, even while cursing it, I would try to read a few pages before setting off for work.

This novel had all the elements that make reading nourishing for me: lovely, flowing prose, thought-provoking metaphors, a compelling authorial voice. On top of that, the characters were intriguing and the plot was ingeniously constructed in several interrelated parts (a "book within a book," as well as various newspaper articles and pieces of correspondence) that shifted their apparent relation to one another as the narrative progressed. Beginning with an old woman recalling her sister, a series of newspaper obituaries, and the perhaps-fictional story of two anonymous lovers making up stories together, the novel twists and turns its way towards a conclusion that's gut-wrenching, yet satisfying. Atwood's feminist passion is still here, but it's incorporated more smoothly and less didactically than in either of her other novels I've read, and is just one part of a seamless, enthralling story. Reading The Blind Assassin inspires me to pick up some of Atwood's other more recent fiction, and it's always lovely to discover that such a prolific author holds riches for me, after all.
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
This Booker Prize winner is an outstanding book. The novel maps out a complex family mystery that is as fascinating as it is tragic. It begins with the suicide of a young woman and the publication of her posthumous novel. Traveling back and forth in time from the 1930’s to the present day,
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through her sister’s first person account as well as newspaper articles and even the text of the imaginary novel, the reader seeks to understand this pivotal tragedy. The beauty of the tale is in the levels of its telling – the stories within stories within stories, a puzzle to parse, but a puzzle with heart about fascinating and believable characters. I must say that Atwood’s genius is that every “telling” is equally compelling, so when we switch time periods and/or narrative voices, it is never reluctantly, as it is with so many such novels. This book is a feast for the mind with many delicious courses.
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LibraryThing member drsyko
If my car were sitting in my driveway on blocks with the engine pulled out it would still move faster than this book. And the pace of this book is only one of its many problems.

I love Margaret Atwood. I have read and enjoyed many of her books and would recommend them. If you’ve ever read The
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Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye or The Robber Bride then you know that her books are often dark and brooding but ultimately fascinating. Unfortunately, The Blind Assassin is just dark and boring, and ultimately coma inducing.

This book details the life of the Chase family, primarily the father and 2 daughters since the mother makes an early exit (a wise choice). The book opens with the suicide of one of the daughters, Laura. It is told in the first person narrative by the older sister, Iris. Within the novel is another novel, written by we are not exactly sure until close to the end of the book. This novel within a novel is a science fiction story that, while not as tedious as the book in which it is contained, is convoluted and unsatisfying, not to mention rather sexist. In my mind it does nothing to advance the original story. It is written by two illicit lovers, presumably one of which is one of the sisters, but it’s not made plain which one until the end of the book. The story of the lovers could have easily been told without this additional story, and so it is jarring and feels not quite right. This is distracting and I was left wondering what the heck it was there for, instead of being able to immerse myself in the story. Are you confused yet? Welcome to my book world.

For me, what really makes or breaks a story is whether or not I can find something to like or at least sympathize with about the characters. At the very least I want to be given some kind of understanding as to why a character does what she does. And that was the death knell for this book. The characters are unrelentingly cowardly, miserable, immoral people. Did I mention that this book is 521 pages long? In all of those pages I could not find one thing about these people that made them likeable or truly understandable. In fact, I found myself feeling good when something bad happened to a character because I tended to feel that they deserved it. This is not my idea of enjoyable reading. Laura is a selfish little snot whom basically does only what she wants to do and the consequences be damned for everyone else in her life. A big part of the book centers around Laura’s reputation as a literary figure who’s book was published posthumously. One of the infuriating things about this is that it is never clearly explained how it is that Laura ended up with this book and why it ended up being famous, let alone why Iris is so irritated by this situation.

Iris is a mousy, gutless, empty person who fights for nothing, not even the well-being of her child. I kept reading and reading, hoping I would come to some incident in the book where Iris would do at least one thing that was noble or true and decent. My reading was in vain, and I needed to go have ice cream just to get over it. I could find nothing to like about her and nothing that truly explained her lack of will. Admittedly her childhood had its difficulties, but in the end it still does not adequately explain her inability to ever do the right thing. Her father is a jerk, and some of their childhood tutors are not so nice, but ultimately I have to ask, so what? At some point one has to take responsibility for oneself, which it seems that Iris never really does.

The father, Norval, is also a real piece of work. He is a war hero who was wounded and is of course also emotionally damaged by this. In typical novel fashion he takes to drinking and having fits of rage. He has his moments of nobility, e.g. he makes valiant efforts to save his family’s business, but in the end, he too is an empty shell; a brute of a man who passes his daughters off from one tutor to another when their mother dies, and basically trades one of them in marriage in order to get money. Another unlikable character.

Another problem with this book is that it is a curious mixture of implausible plot elements and totally predictable and hackneyed plot developments. Previous novels by Atwood have been quite psychological with interesting and unpredictable plot twists. And her plots usually involve truly unique storytelling. The only surprise for me in this book is the lack of surprise. At each turn it is fairly easy to predict what is going to happen to whom. These people never seem to change or learn anything from their experiences, which is what makes them and this book so distasteful and boring. And to add additional frustration, and thus the need for copious additional bowls of ice cream (sometimes with chocolate sauce, nuts and whipped cream, which should tell you how very serious my distress was), is the fact that in several places some vaguely interesting thing starts to happen and then it’s gone. Lines of thought or story just fade away, which was really crazy making, evidenced by the fact that by about page 325 I had gained 5 pounds and would not have been above getting on my knees and begging Ms. Atwood to give me just one thing to look forward to that would get me through the additional 200 pages. I truly had a very hard time even finishing this book. In fact, my reading partner confessed that she had not been able to bring herself to finish it. Needless to say, she did not get any ice cream.

Even the ending of this book is unsatisfying. Nothing really happens. It just ends, with several plot lines left unresolved. This is one of the most thoroughly dissatisfying and frustrating reading experiences I have had in a very long time. I know this book won a Booker Prize and the critics liked it, so I am just one voice in the book wilderness. But, I would like my $14.00 back, and I think Ms. Atwood owes me for all of the ice cream, not to mention the now needed gym membership and new clothes.
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LibraryThing member ohdani
Wow. This book. Wow.

My feelings on this book are so conflicted in a lot of ways. My very first thought after finishing it was simple what I stated above. "Wow." This book is all-encompassing. It's huge, and it's intoxicating, and it leaves you feeling like you've just eaten the most wonderful
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7-course dinner and can barely move from being so blissfully full.

That being said, I must be honest. The first half of this book made me doubt whether I would even be able to get through the whole thing. It was a very slow narrative and there were many different things happening at all different times. It was hard to follow at some points. Atwood gives you several different story lines to keep track of at the same time, and it wasn't until the very middle of the book that they started to slowly come together. Once you get to the point, the book starts rolling. Everything picks up and the pieces of the puzzle that you've been holding on to for so many pages are now beginning to form the picture you've been looking for all along.

This is the story about two sisters, their once prominent family, their mysterious past and the bleak present. There are three different methods used to relay all the information you learn.

The first, is the narrative of Iris Chase, the older sister. She is in her present day form, an elderly lady, and she's writing about her life now while reminiscing about her past. Her entries are how we learn about the childhood of herself and her sister, Laura.

In other chapters, we read news clippings from the past, describing the world events that were happening at the time, as well as the happenings of the two sisters and their families.

Still yet, there is a final story-telling device. These chapters, which are strewn throughout the book in between Iris' narrative and the newspaper articles, you find yourself reading a novel within a novel. This novel, called The Blind Assassin, was written by Laura chase and published after her untimely death. In this novel, which gained a strong following of fans, two mysterious lovers (who we are never fully introduced to) are meeting in various secret places and hideouts to make love and they create a science-fiction story together. Each time they meet, they continue the tale.

Atwood takes these three different aspects and weaves them together. You begin to unlock the mysteries surrounding the death of Laura, as well as several others. This book isn't a very happy one, however. It is filled with a lot of struggle and heartache. It's entire plot is filled with loss and desire. And when you close the book, you feel the weight of the entire history of the Chase family upon you, and the characters remain with you as though they were real people. What started as a tough read for me left me very emotional, and very touched.

This one will definitely be pulled out again at a later date to be reread.
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LibraryThing member smouw
The truth always comes out in the end, and in The Blind Assassin, a title which fits perfectly in many, many ways, Margaret Atwood's main character Iris finally tells the whole story, her story, her family's story. It's not a happy one, and as I read, I couldn't help but think about human nature's
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dark acceptance of misery.

I loved the plot structure--knowing from the start the outcome of most characters' lives. I loved getting to know Iris through the story within the story, the events captured in newspaper clippings, and finally, from her own narration.

Irony, symbolism, and most of all, a story line that reveals the truth of human nature in more ways than one (read the daily headlines and ask, who are the people behind these pieces of news? What would they have to say about these facts?)are all reasons I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book--because it reminded me that we can never really know anyone's truth unless they choose to reveal it to us.
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LibraryThing member drivingsideways
This was the first novel I read of Atwood, and (for a book randomly picked up off a street in Bombay, since I had no idea who Atwood was!), it was a great find! The story of two sisters, their troubled relationship with each other and those around, set in a time of political and social change, is
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deliciously told. As a reader you start peeling the layers to get to the truth, much like Iris Chase (the novel's protagonist and narrator),sifting through lies and half-truths, and silences-what is left unsaid (and unwritten) is equally important as what is articulated-until we arrive at the final denoument, and heave a sigh of relief. The story is told as a novel within a novel within a novel- only somebody as gifted as Atwood could probably get away with this multi-layering, and even if the tale of "The Blind Assassin" seems at times awkwardly placed between the main narrative, you love it.
The Blind Assassin is one of those few books that I would call truly "unforgettable".
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LibraryThing member Trai
The Blind Assassin is a story that winds slowly through the lives of a wealthy Canadian family before, during, and after The Depression.

The majority of the book is told from the perspective of Iris Chase, an elderly woman reflecting and writing about her life and her family. With her thoughts, the
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book skips between her 1930’s and 1990’s. At irregular intervals, Iris’s reflections are interrupted by clippings from newspapers and from a novel (also titled ‘The Blind Assassin’) which is written by the sister of Iris, Laura Chase.

Though the technical writing in this book was superb, the frequent changes of perspective made the pacing feel off and the characters less sympathetic. The first three-fourths of the book is an extremely slow read that sags with the weight of too many metaphors. Many of the metaphors were quite good, clever even, as they should be. But when there is a metaphor or simile in every other paragraph, they become unwelcome. So much filler designed to increase word count. The last quarter of the book finally picked up the pace and delivered a moving end to the story.

Ultimately, I found myself thinking through most of the book that the science-fiction story told by a character within Laura Chase’s novel was better than the novel written by Laura Chase or Iris Chase. Perhaps this was Margaret Atwood’s intent, perhaps not.
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LibraryThing member bekahbooud
This will definitely stay on my bookshelf... it is an amazing piece of fiction. I would give it 5 stars, but I had a hard time getting into the story at first. Although, that's probably because, at the beginning, I wasn't reading large chunks of the book at a time. I should not have put it away so
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easily at the beginning because I think I would have gained more from Atwood's intricately woven story. But, by the end I couldn't put it down! Highly recommended...
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LibraryThing member rocketjk
I found this to be a wonderful book, if not always an easy one to read. I was pulled in, first, by Atwood wonderful, easy writing style, rich in stunning metaphor yet advancing smoothly, sentence by sentence and page by page.

It is the story of a woman growing up in a monied family in Canada that is
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quickly shattered by the horrors of World War One. We see the conditions of the time, specifically in the way that women of the time, place and class rarely get to live the lives they choose, with decisions made for them even on a day-by-day basis. As the world moves through the Depression and into and through WWII, what stays remains constant is the narrator's uphill struggle to live life on terms that mildly approximate her own desires.

The tale is told by the narrator as an old woman. We see the entries of her memoirs as she writes them, alternating these memories of her own past life and that of her long lost younger sister with descriptions of her "current" life as an aging, dying woman bereft of almost everything but her memories. Also interspersed are chapters from "The Blind Assassin," a novel-within-a-novel that reveals even more about the story we're reading.

This multi-faceted, multi-tiered narrative is handled marvelously. The story is sometimes tough to read, as the narrator's live is rarely easy or pleasant, despite (or because of, more accurately) her socal position. But the characters are believable and the story rings true.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
The Blind Assassin is the type of novel that my English professors would have assigned to me if I was a college student right now. This book encompasses everything my forward-minded professors adored in modern literature: complicated plots, creative storytelling, literary allusions, feminist
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implications, symbolism and foreshadowing – all wrapped up into a neat yet complex package.

For the non-collegiate reader, The Blind Assassin has a lot to offer too. It’s got a little romance, a bit of a Gothic tendency and a sci-fi tale all woven into one. It’s not surprising that The Blind Assassin is so widely read and the recipient of prestigious awards.

For this reader, I enjoyed the book’s story-within-the story style. The majority of the story is written from Iris’s perspective – a woman born of privilege whose loveless marriage and complicated relationship with her father and sister lead her into the arms of a lover. The second story is a fictional book “written” by Iris’s sister, Laura. It features a nameless man and woman as they sneak around to hide their affair. Their time together was spent making love and creating a story about a far-away race of aliens. To be honest, I could have done without the sci-fi element. I wonder why it was even included except to show some symbolism. Writers of less ability than Atwood would not have been able to pull it off, but to her credit, she did.

Overall, I enjoyed The Blind Assassin. It definitely piqued my interest in Margaret Atwood’s other works. Based on this book, I can see why she has earned such literary praise and is the favorite writer of many avid readers. I just wonder if Atwood, at the top of her game, produced The Blind Assassin robotically – its literary conventions are almost too perfect; the story, predictable; and the ending, done before. Perhaps that’s the magic of the whole thing – and a grand show of force from a writer who can do it all.
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LibraryThing member krazy4katz
I chose to read this book after reading The Handmaid's Tale. After giving that one 5 stars, I struggle over giving this one 3.5 or 4. Margaret Atwood is an incredible writer. She crafts each sentence with such attention to meaning, pondering the implications of each word, how it transitions to
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another thought, how she can draw exactly the right image for the reader. I love her writing. The book itself was initially very disorienting. The main voice is that of Iris Chase, the elder sister of Laura, and the only person who survives to tell her family's story. She disappears from the book after the first chapter, and it is only after she returns that I became truly involved in the story. Others have described the "story within the story" device that Atwood uses and how she gradually integrates the "real" and "fictional" world. While I enjoyed most of that, some of the science fiction was just too silly -- meant to be, but we have to read it too! I found myself saying, "No! Please don't interrupt the story with this!" I also suspect the title means more than I have been able to understand. Of course I know who the "Blind Assassin" is in the story within the story, but I feel a bit like Laura, asking "Who is he really?" and "Why is he so important in the book (both books!) that he becomes the title?" One of the surprises at the end of the novel was, I thought, too carelessly thrown in, but I love her writing so much that I forgive her. On the whole, while there are fragments of tedium, this is a beautifully constructed novel.
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LibraryThing member lindyfoster
If you've liked other Margaret Atwood books, but just can't seem to get into this one, KEEP READING! It will be worth it in the end. This seems to be one of her less popular books, but that must be simply because it is complicated. In her usual well-written style, Atwood has crafted a complex story
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which only begins to reveal itself after several chapters. I loved this book!
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LibraryThing member karamazow
A long, long novel about inadequacy and incompetence. None of the protagonists presented seem to have any grip on their lives at all. I never read any novel of this length with so many inept characters. All of them are so frantically biased and prejudiced, that it becomes difficult to take them
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completely serious. Worst is the characterisation of husband Richard, a thoroughly one-dimensional person, something which Atwood at the end of the novel admits herself. She offers an apology for this at the very end of the text, which is at least some kind of consolation.
The architecture of the novel is a shambles, or, more positively viewed, a sprawling puzzle. It takes more than half of the text to finally discover some structure. There is a parody of a science fiction story woven into this, told by the ‘revolutionary’ and illicit lover of main character Iris, so commonplace that it defies description. Perhaps the fractured structure is an analogy of the attempts of Iris trying to bring some order into her memories.
On the positive side there is the easily flowing language and the (as always) surprisingly well-chosen metaphors (without which the novel would be unreadable) showing great insight and quite a lot of fine seasonal descriptions too.
Undoubtedly Atwood can write very well, but with this overload of ineptitude and impotence in the characters, it’s hardly a rewarding read. Probably she tries to be ‘honest’ about them, but too much is too much, no matter how noble the motives.
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LibraryThing member edgeworth
Winner of the 2000 Booker Prize (automatically the most prestigious), "The Blind Assassin" is "an extraordinary and compelling story... set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth century history," if you consider a generic romance to be extraordinary and compelling, and the twentieth century to
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be the twenty-year span between the world wars. The novel is a narrated by Iris Chase, an elderly woman in the late 1990's who is writing about her experiences growing up in the 20's and 30's, particularly her relationship with her sister - whom, we learn early in the book, committed suicide a week after WWII ended.

I wrote in my review of "The Year of The Flood" that I don't think Margaret Atwood is capable of writing a bad book, and that holds true; I was never bored or frustrated with "The Blind Assassin," but never particularly engaged by it either. Iris' modern-day observations about the world around her are about as interesting as you'd expect an old woman's grumbling to be. Her recollections of the past, which comprise the bulk of the novel, are far more interesting - but, as I said above, never amazingly so. The story-within-a-story told to her by an anonymous lover, the pulp fantasy story of the blind assassin, is also interesting despite being an obvious allegorical diversion. Fortunately, throughout the book, Atwood's word-to-word quality of prose never drops below the level of "quite good" and is often considerably higher.

As always with Atwood, this is a book about feminism, and about the relationship men have with women. As with "The Year of the Flood" and "The Handmaid's Tale" - and perhaps all of Atwood's work, even a book like "Oryx & Crake," which features damaged but fundamentally goodhearted and well-intentioned men - this relationship is one of control. Iris is controlled at first by her father, and then by her husband in a loveless arranged marriage. She has very little control over her own fate, socially or legally, until she manages to seize some in the final chapters. Even then it is a pyrrhic victory. Iris' life, a realistic portrayal of how women lived until the last forty or fifty years, reminds one of what it was like to be a child, with no autonomy or independence.

And yet, for all this noble feminism, "The Blind Assassin" is fundamentally a romance no different from a Mills & Boone paperback. A dark, handsome young revolutionary comes into the sisters' lives. They both become besotted with him. One becomes his lover, swept off her feet, hopelessly in love despite his fugitive status, his cynical attitude, his radical political views. He's the dashing stranger your father forbids you to see, hard drinker and hard smoker, well-read and just a little wild... ooh, if only someone could tame him!

The contradiction at the heart of "The Blind Assassin" is either some kind of profound statement about love, or evidence that even the mosst uptight feminists still secretly want a handsome young man to cradle them in his burly arms and make passionate love to them. Perhaps, once you take away the style and the literary merit and the ability to string a sentence together, Margaret Atwood and Stephanie Meyers aren't so different after all!
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
I'm confused as to what I think of this book. Part of me loved it - there is no doubt Atwood is a splendid prose writer, and the last 200 pages or so had me gripped as all the loose ends were finally tied up. I just felt it took so long to get to that point, and I'd figured out many of the plot
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twists long before the end anyway.

This is a lengthy book (some 600 odd pages), and 300 pages in I still wasn't sure if I was hooked. I enjoy a slow burn if the writing's great, and there can be no denying Atwood's skills in that department, but there's slow and then there's slow. In many early sections of the book it felt as if there was no build up to anything, and as I don't enjoy reading sci-fi I didn't enjoy the 'Blind Assassin' sections that much where a sci-fi story is unfolded.

It is a very clever book, though - Atwood uses numerous literary tools to weave a unique and complex plot.

3.5 stars for me, I think, but I can appreciate why for others this is 5 star material. Personally, I preferred Alias Grace.
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LibraryThing member PuddinTame
My colleagues in public libraries often write emphatic articles about the importance of getting the public to read Serious Modern Fiction (SMF). I envision some of them marching people to the shelves at gunpoint. Never having been a big fan of SMF, for the last few years, I have been attending
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library book clubs and independently pursuing a program of reading classics. Blind Assassin, the fourth and worst Margaret Atwood novel that I have read has convinced me that I have been wasting my time. From now on I’m sticking to my usual nonfiction with a leavening of mysteries and fantasies.

Genre fiction is often decried as being “formulaic”. And Blind Assassin isn’t? The little motherless mites with the faithful maid and the distant father; the doomed sibling; the nasty upper-class husband vs the lower-class lover; the hollow proprieties of an older time; the tackiness of modern life, etc.

Of course, Atwood has a gimmick that apparently dazzled the critics. You’ve heard of the story-within-a-story, and you’ve heard of the alternating narratives – well this baby has TWO stories-within-stories as alternating narratives!!! But, wait! There’s more – a third narrative consisting mostly of newspapers clippings that parallels one of the narratives!!! Wow, how could you dare to ask for an interesting plot or well-developed characters?! These kind of narrative tricks are marvelous if they create an effect that can’t be handled in a straightforward narrative, but otherwise it’s like the competition to write the longest sentence in English: sure it takes some cleverness to think up an additional clause that hasn’t been used, but is the result worth reading? In my opinion, a novel is either an involving narrative that creates a world that’s completely real as long as one is reading – or the author should do nonfiction. The book could have been vastly improved by eliminating about 190 of the first 200 pages. The narrative, which is supposed to be a memoir, contains entirely too much detail; it reminds me of a total stranger latching onto someone in a public place to drone on about themselves. Worse, all the detail is lavished upon insignificant things like ambient dog feces or styrofoam cups.

The engine of much of the plot is the strong feelings that Alex Thomas inspires in the Chase sisters, but he’s a such a shadowy figure that I can’t imagine what they see in him nor do I have any feeling for him (or any other character). We know that he was a war orphan raised by a Presbyterian minister, he’s a leftist of some sort, he writes science-fiction short stories, he fought in the Spanish Civil War and died in World War II. What little we experience of his personality, which is recounted by a sexual partner (lover would be too euphemistic and sentimental), seems pretty abrasive and obnoxious.

I can’t imagine that Iris’ memoir would have much effect on her long-estranged granddaughter, assuming Sabrina had the patience to plow through it: Sabrina and her mother rank well below bathroom grafitti in importance. Atwood attempts to pour on the pathos in the last couple of pages, but since Iris doesn’t appear to have noticed her daughter between her birth and the age of eight, bathos is more like it.
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LibraryThing member daizylee
The book that converted me to Atwood.
LibraryThing member Vivl
It's rare that I get half way through a 600 page novel and feel relieved that I have over 300 pages to go. This book just entranced me, captivated me. I enjoyed every word of what is in effect Iris' monologue, interspersed with chapters from a fictional The Blind Assassin--the novel that Iris has
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published after the suicide of her younger sister, Laura.

It's also rare, in fact unheard of, for me to want to reread a book straight after finishing it, especially one so weighty. I reread the last 6 or so chapters several times, and even now, when I've started reading another novel, I'm revisiting the first chapters of The Blind Assassin, reading a few pages each night. I don't want to put it down.

Update in early 2013: Indeed, I ended up reading the entire book two times back to back. If it weren't for all the other books in the universe I want to read I'd probably keep rereading it for all eternity and not be sorry.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
The Blind Assassin is, quite simply, one of the best books I have ever read. It is a matryoshka doll of stories. At first, I was wondering what the stories had to do with one another, but it soon becomes obvious that they are multi-layered and interrelated.

Protagonist Iris is writing her memoir in
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1999, looking back on events that took place during the 1930’s and 1940’s. News articles are inserted periodically to provide an exterior perspective. It is a story of Iris and her younger sister, Laura, who grow up in a privileged family. The patriarch experiences setbacks due to the Great Depression, and needs an infusion of cash, so he arranges a marriage between Iris and a wealthy industrialist. The sisters meet a working-class labor activist, who is blamed for an incendiary incident.

A science fiction story, told by a man to his lover, is interwoven into the memoir, along with a narrative of what is going on in Iris’s life in the present. The narrative requires the reader’s active engagement, constantly thinking and evaluating, fitting the puzzle pieces together, until the full picture emerges at the end.

Though a structural device is employed, there are multiple strong storylines supporting it. Atwood does not just add an artificial structure for its own sake. As the story progresses, various clues are revealed. The reader’s interpretation of these clues changes the meaning of events that came before. It is Margaret Atwood at her finest. Just brilliant!
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LibraryThing member Eoin
There is little left to say about Atwood. This is a spectacular example of her total control of structure, tone, incomplete information, and flat-out beautiful sentences. Worth it for the eyes like snake-filled pits.
LibraryThing member addunn3
Early century study of a woman and her sister growing up in failing wealth and the compromises and challenges that occur. Interesting read, good writing, though a bit slow to develop, and early plot is a bit disconnected for me. The last 1/3 of the book brought it to life!
LibraryThing member eleanor_eader
Told in three separate time-lines (Iris, the elderly narrator’s day-to-day life, her unfolding of her childhood and life with her sister, Laura, and the story around the writing of the Blind Assassin, Laura’s debut and only novel), this book failed to engage me on a lot of levels, but
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nevertheless dragged me through every page to find out how the family secrets, mysterious deaths and shrouded lives arranged themselves into a story.

I found nothing likeable about any of the characters; I think this was quite important, in that most of them seemed to be in need of forgiving for something, but there was something inherently interesting about many of them, and Atwood makes the story, the unfolding mystery, do double-time in making up for any absence of character to root for. The reader isn’t going to put the book down just because we might not care about Iris or her relationship with her seemingly-fey sister, Laura – we still want to know what happened to Laura, which of the sisters is the author of The Blind Assassin, what happened to the young man at the picnic, why Iris is eventually estranged from her family, how things fit.

An example of Atwood on powerful storytelling-form; given my antipathy towards relationship angst, family sagas and these characters in particular, the fact that I couldn’t stop reading it, to find out, suggests that someone who does enjoy these particular literary themes would probably consider it a masterpiece. Personally, I’m glad it’s over and I can move on to something less monumentally depressing, but I’m also quite pleased to have this facet of Atwood’s writing career under my reading belt – until now I’d read The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, and this is another example of her unpredictability, a thing-unlike-the-others. I think the author is worth continuing to read for that experience alone.
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LibraryThing member cameling
The unfolding of this story reminded me of a matryoshka doll. Newspaper clippings tell of momentous events in the lives of Iris and Laura Chase, their father, Capt. Norval Chase and then later, Richard Griffen. A society woman's affair with a fugitive takes place in dingy rooms, but the grime,
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squalor and noise fade into the background as he weaves a science-fiction fantasy that progresses each time they meet. And in the midst of this, the lives of the two sisters evolve through distinct time periods.

Iris's philosophy of living her life as a duty is brilliantly contrasted with Laura's uncanny observations of life's purpose and God. The narrative conceals as it exposes, and the reader is kept guessing until the very end.
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LibraryThing member rbtwinky
Wow, what a wonderfully different story. The levels within this story are just amazing. There is the narrator, whose book contains the initial voice presented by the author, a book written by her sister, which itself cotains a separate story, several newspaper clippings, and even some bathroom
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graffiti. Of course they all were interrelated and added aditional meaning and depth to the others. I did struggle with linking the story told by "the man" with the rest of the stories, but I'm sure there was one. There was also a delicious twist to the book that is hinted at along the way and slowly becomes clear as the various stories converge. My one complaint about the book is that Atwood did not sufficiently change her voice to reflect the various authors. This was minimal, however, as the impact of the story was not from the various voices, but more the various stories.
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