Sunday, June 9, 2013

C_Club #8 - "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood

This is my third Atwood-novel; earlier I have read "Oryx and Crake" and "The Handmaid's Tale". "The Blind Assassin" won Man Booker Prize in 2000 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (The Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction as of next year) in 2001.
"The Blind Assassin" is a clever book. The story is told through a first person narrator, through a novel chapters and through newspaper cuts. I suppose this makes it an epistolary novel. And it is also a story within a story, so overall, a complicated story-telling technique, which should please people (such as myself) who enjoy cut-up and sown-back-together narratives and don't mind time- and focus-jumps.
The story starts most intriguingly: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." The first person narrator is Iris Chase, and her younger sister Laura, who is described to commit suicide on the first page, is the author of the novel within the novel. The rest of the cast varies, though in general, we are dealing with mostly non-likable characters here. And as it has become quite common in literature, the house servants (in this case Renie and later her daughter) are those with the most sense in their brains and feet strongest on the ground.
Iris herself can be difficult to relate to. From the beginning she has this attitude of "Woe to me, the life takes over and there is nothing I can do about it". To an extent it is understandable, due to the situation of her family - mother is dead (no female role model there for her and her sister), father is struggling to keep up the family business, and Iris is expected to marry off wealthy in order to save the business, which she does, thinking that what else could she do in life anyway. Laura has a bit more encouraging attitude, she actually thinks it plausible that a woman could go and search for a job (which she does at one point), and she is generally much more vibrant, though also a lot more sensitive creature. Compared to Laura, Iris did come off rather phlegmatic most of the times.
It's difficult to write about the plot because there are twists and turns and surprises around the corner, but they are written masterfully and with a lot of elegance by Atwood. The story grows naturally page after page (for many it develops too slow, no doubt), and when something is revealed, it actually makes an impact on the reader. I was fascinated by the three channels of storytelling - the first person, the novel and the newspaper cuts. It kept me on toes all the time because I sensed that Iris herself is probably not the most reliable narrator, and the story within story also keeps you asking how much of it was fiction and how much was taken directly from the life events. So ironically, the newspaper exerpts, although neutral, cold and distance, can be the most reliable source of information here.
"The Blind Assassin" was very different from the other two novels by Atwood I have read (both of which were set in dystopian world) and I liked it a lot - the story was solid and I loved the writing. Margaret Atwood is definitely one of the most charming authors, language-wise, I have read. And will continue reading.
Why is honeymoon called that? Lune de miel, moon of honey - as if the moon itself is not a cold and airless and barren sphere of pockmarked rock, but soft, golden, luscious - a luminous candied plum, the yellow kind, melting in the mouth and sticky as desire, so achingly sweet it makes your teeth hurt. /p. 300/
Now I got a craving for yellow plums :)
521 pages


  1. I like that honeymoon quote :)

    I was seriously THIS CLOSE to adding this book to be TBR pile for this month, but I decided on Rebecca instead. So maybe next month :) I'm glad you enjoyed it! Atwood can be a hit-or-miss author for me.

    1. Ah, I think I have been lucky so far that I've liked her stuff quite consistently. She just writes so well that even if the story itself should be a bit lacking, that would always compensate a bit.

      It's not a fast book, though, it took me quite a bit of time to get through it (more than a week I think), but I think the pacing matches the quiet intensity of the story itself.

  2. I didn't know this was an epistolary novel, that makes me excited to read it as I LOVE epistolary novels!
    Glad you enjoyed it :)

    1. Yes, I also enjoy epistolary novels, and the changes between the different channels were very interesting at times. Like starting off very far from each other and kind of running into this one solid river by the end (if that makes sense :) )


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