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Friday, December 4, 2020

Review and quotes: THE BLIND ASSASSIN

Title: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Book Beginnings quote:

Friday56 quote:


The novel opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge." They are spoken by Iris, her sister. Just as the reader expects to settle into Laura's story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, a newspaper article announces the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.

Told in a style that magnificently captures the colloquialisms and clichés of the 1930s and 1940s, The Blind Assassin is a richly layered and uniquely rewarding experience. The novel has many threads and a series of events that follow one another at a breathtaking pace. As everything comes together, readers will discover that the story Atwood is telling is not only what it seems to be--but, in fact, much more. -The Publisher

Review: Back in 2007, or thereabouts, my book club selected The Blind Assassin as a monthly choice. I had a terrible time with the book. After reading less than 100 pages I abandoned the effort. It was so unlike me to not finish a book but I found the book-within-a-book-within-a book format terribly confusing. I went to the meeting empty handed and had to listen to the discussion without having much to offer to it. Since that time over thirteen years ago, it has bothered me that I didn't finish the book, especially since I learned about the bucket-full of awards it gleaned the year it was published, even capturing The Booker Prize in 2000.

I added The Blind Assassin back onto my TBR list a few years ago and finally got started reading it in August. Well, more accurately, I started listening to the audiobook. And do you know what? The problems I encountered in 2007 persisted. The book was still so confusing, the plot so twisted, the mix of genres so disturbing, the mystery was so ill-defined, and the romance so unromantic. I once again had a hard time with it. Because library checkouts have an expiration date, I wasn't able to finish the audiobook in the three weeks. Three months went by before I was able to get it back. Equally irritating and frustrating I only listened to about 100 pages of the book this second time, which got me to the point where I left off the first time. (Cue the eye-rolling.) But I was determined. So when the library gave me another turn on the audiobook in November I reluctantly started listening from that point forward finishing it the day the book was due. I'm done with the darn thing. Whew.

After sitting on the book for a few days trying to figure out how to review it, I opened up a few reviews written back when it was first published in 2000 and guess what? The reviewers for the New York Times and The Guardian newspapers didn't really like the book either. So how did it end up winning the Booker?

Announcing the 2000 Booker Prize winner at a ceremony at London's Guildhall, Simon Jenkins, chairman of the judges, said:

"The Blind Assassin is a complex book that works on many different levels. Far reaching, dramatic and structurally superb, it demonstrates Atwood's immense emotional range, as well as her poet's eye for both telling detail and psychological truth.

"The book demonstrates the mature pessimism of age and does so brilliantly."

So there you are. It was brilliant and pessimistic. It was written with a poet's eye to detail. Yet, it was still confusing and I only gave it three out of five stars.

What did you think of it? Let me know.

Publishing Info: McClelland and Stewart. September 5, 2000. 521 pages.

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  1. Hi Anne,

    I have to be a little sad and lame now, as I confess that I have never read a Margaret Atwood book! Hers is one of a long list of named authors and classic books which I would like to read one day - but at this rate, that day is never going to come!

    I really enjoyed the extracts you shared and was getting ready to add the book to my list, but then you mentioned that the story within the story is a piece of science fiction, and I'm afraid you lost me there, as fantasy and science fiction are two genres which I don't particularly enjoy and seldom, if ever, read!

    I too, don't like to give up on a book once I have started reading, so I can imagine how frustrating this was for you and I admire your perseverance in putting together a review!

    Thanks for sharing and have a peaceful weekend :)

    Yvonne Xx

    1. I was shocked, shocked as I read the reviews on the NYT and The Guardian as it dawned on me that they didn't like the book either and even talked about how boring some parts were. Ha!

  2. When I saw you had picked this book, I thought, oh, good, I loved it! But then I couldn't remember the issues you described, nor had I read it before I started reviewing books, so I couldn't even check out my specific thoughts!

    Now...dilemma. Should I read it now? Or ignore my curiosity?

    I do know that I loved some of Atwood's books, and not others. I HATED the Oryx and Crake triad, but loved Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye.

    I guess I will just wonder why I remember loving The Blind Assassin, but can't recall anything about it!

    Loved your description of your journey with the book, though.

    1. Maybe I am remembering a different book I enjoyed: The Robber Bride!

    2. I haven't read The Robber Bride. I thought that the sequel to Oryx and Crake was inventive but it wasn't until a few years after reading it that I discovered it was indeed the second book in the series. Ha! I read the sequel to Handmaid's Tale this year and found it compelling.

  3. It's a bummer that you didn't enjoy this one. A book within a book does sound like it would be very confusing.

    Hope you have a great weekend! :)

  4. I'd love to read this one. :-) Happy weekend!

    1. I found a lot of reviews on Goodreads that agree with you, more in fact, than those who agree with me.

  5. I think this is one I won't be reading any time soon. But good for you for persisting and finishing it this time around!

  6. I usually enjoy meta fiction, but this sounds like it is simply a mash up of books. The judges for the Booker Prize and I rarely see eye to eye.:-) Glad you accomplished your goal of finishing it.

    1. I don't usually read Booker Prize winners just because I have so many other books on my list but I do usually like The National Book Award winners and the Pulitzer Prize winners for literature, so I doubt I have a beef with Booker, in general.

  7. I am amazed that you persisted with this book! It does seem strange that it won the Booker Prize given how many didn't like it. I will not even attempt this one.

    1. I know, but I did want to know how the mystery was solved. Plus I didn't want this book hanging over my head for the rest of my life. Now I am done with it.

    2. I am not surprised at all. I seem to like the books that did not win the prize rather than the winners. I have read a few, but am not impressed. The exception to the rule is of course Hilary Mantel. Nothing wrong with her three books about Thomas Cromwell. I have still to read the last one, and loved the first two.

  8. I've never read anything by this author, but I'm intrigued by what you wrote. Maybe at some point I'll have a chance to read it.

  9. Love both beginning and page 56. I am not a big fan of Margaret Atwood, mainly since I don't like to read SF. I have read The Handmaid's Tale, but did not really like it. This one sounds like something I would like though. I will try it although a lot of people seem not to like it.

  10. It took me awhile to get through The Blind Assassin, and I found it confusing at first too, but somewhere in there things began to fall into place for me, and I ended up liking it (4 out of 5 stars). I liked The Handmaid's Tale better (the only other books I've read by Atwood) though, and while I would reread that one in a heart beat, once was enough for The Blind Assassin.

  11. I had to pop over here to see WHY it took you 13 years to finish this book! Weird that it won the Booker!

    Thanks for the review - now I don't have to read it :)


    Book By Book


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