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The Blind Assassin Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 5, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Blind Assassin is a tale of two sisters, one of whom dies under ambiguous circumstances in the opening pages. The survivor, Iris Chase Griffen, initially seems a little cold-blooded about this death in the family. But as Margaret Atwood's most ambitious work unfolds--a tricky process, in fact, with several nested narratives and even an entire novel-within-a-novel--we're reminded of just how complicated the familial game of hide-and-seek can be:
What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly, for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain.
Meanwhile, Atwood immediately launches into an excerpt from Laura Chase's novel, The Blind Assassin, posthumously published in 1947. In this double-decker concoction, a wealthy woman dabbles in blue-collar passion, even as her lover regales her with a series of science-fictional parables. Complicated? You bet. But the author puts all this variegation to good use, taking expert measure of our capacity for self-delusion and complicity, not to mention desolation. Almost everybody in her sprawling narrative manages to--or prefers to--overlook what's in plain sight. And memory isn't much of a salve either, as Iris points out: "Nothing is more difficult than to understand the dead, I've found; but nothing is more dangerous than to ignore them." Yet Atwood never succumbs to postmodern cynicism, or modish contempt for her characters. On the contrary, she's capable of great tenderness, and as we immerse ourselves in Iris's spliced-in memoir, it's clear that this buttoned-up socialite has been anything but blind to the chaos surrounding her. --Darya Silver

From Publishers Weekly

Family secrets, sibling rivalry, political chicanery and social unrest, promises and betrayals, "loss and regret and memory and yearning" are the themes of Atwood's brilliant new novel, whose subtitle might read: The Fall of the House of Chase. Justly praised for her ability to suggest the complexity of individual lives against the backdrop of Canadian history, Atwood here plays out a spellbinding family saga intimately affected by WWI, the Depression and Communist witch-hunts, but the final tragedy is equally the result of human frailty, greed and passion. Octogenarian narrator Iris Chase Griffen is moribund from a heart ailment as she reflects on the events following the suicide in 1945 of her fey, unworldly 25-year-old sister, Laura, and of the posthumous publication of Laura's novel, called "The Blind Assassin." Iris's voiceDacerbic, irreverent, witty and cynicalDis mesmerizingly immediate. When her narration gives way to conversations between two people collaborating on a science fiction novel, we assume that we are reading the genesis of Laura's tale. The voices are those of an unidentified young woman from a wealthy family and her lover, a hack writer and socialist agitator on the run from the law; the lurid fantasy they concoct between bouts of lovemaking constitutes a novel-within-a-novel. Issues of sexual obsession, political tyranny, social justice and class disparity are addressed within the potboiler SF, which features gruesome sacrifices, mutilated body parts and corrupt, barbaric leaders. Despite subtle clues, the reader is more than halfway through Atwood's tour de force before it becomes clear that things are not what they seem. Meanwhile, flashbacks illuminate the Chase family history. In addition to being psychically burdened at age nine by her mother's deathbed adjuration to take care of her younger sibling, na ve Iris at age 18 is literally sold into marriage to a ruthless 35-year-old industrialist by her father, a woolly-minded idealist who thinks more about saving the family name and protecting the workers in his button factories than his daughter's happiness. Atwood's pungent social commentary rings chords on the ways women are used by men, and how the power that wealth confers can be used as a deadly weapon. Her microscopic observation transforms details into arresting metaphors, often infused with wry, pithy humor. As she adroitly juggles three plot lines, Atwood's inventiveness achieves a tensile energy. The alternating stories never slacken the pace; on the contrary, one reads each segment breathlessly, eager to get back to the other. In sheer storytelling bravado, Atwood here surpasses even The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. BOMC main selection; author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st ed. in the U.S.A edition (September 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385475721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385475723
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (568 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #400,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MARGARET ATWOOD, whose work has been published in over thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; and her most recent, Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize. She lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

142 of 153 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I admit to being an Atwoodaholic--I wrote my master's thesis on Surfacing and paid double the price to have Alias Grace shipped to me from Canada in advance of its US publication date. As such, I devoured her newest novel in two sittings, despite its 500+ page length. It has left me feeling bleak and, in the words of the book's narrator "scraped clean inside." This is a beautifully structured book, involving three (perhaps even four) narrative layers that play off of each other to build a terrifying commentary on love, passion, sisterhood (both the biological and, by extension, emotional kinds), and betrayal. The book contains the closest thing to a love story Atwood has ever written, and it's a harrowing one that will sneak up on you and devastate you in the end. With the primary action being set between WW I and WWII, the novel also offers a final comment on the twentieth century: humanity's culpability in creating, destroying, and creating again, and on the quiet moments of beauty that are possible (temporarily) among the rubble.
This is a great book, a worthy successor to the wonderful Alias Grace. Read it at your own emotional risk, but READ IT.
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85 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on September 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wish I could give this one more than five stars. The Blind Assassin is a fantastic, fabulous novel and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Margaret Atwoood has written a terrific story told in such a way that the reader will always be kept guessing as to what the true "truth" is. It is a mystery, with a death, but it is not a "mystery novel" as we come to expect. The Blind Assassin is the story of two sisters: Laura and Iris Chase. Laura died in what may or may not have been a suicidal car crash in 1945. Iris tells the story of her family and the events leading up to Laura's death, reflecting in the present on the events of the past. What is so fascinating about The Blind Assassin is that things are not always what they seem, but there are layers upon layers of story, of truth. Atwood reveals the story to us in many ways. We see newspaper accounts of what happened to the Chase family. These accounts are told with the confidence that they convey the whole, true story, but do they? Then we hear Iris' story, but something is not right with her story, something is missing. Iris admits that she has omitted crucial details and bit by bit, the reader is able to piece together what did happen. Interspersed in Iris' narrative are excerpts from Laura's posthumously publised novel, The Blind Assassin, which also give us insight into what happened. Atwood tells this story marvelously. Iris' observations about the present day are witty and sharp. Atwood kept me guessing right up until the end. The mystery of this novel makes it just that much more fun to read. The Blind Assassin is a wonderful addition to the body of work of one of the most talented living authors. I highly, highly recommend it.
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125 of 141 people found the following review helpful By Jeronimo on April 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
And for a while, I really did. What an unusual, totally original idea for a story: a woman tells her long, twisted family history, which is interspersed with excerpts from her dead sister's novel about two lovers meeting in hotel rooms to tell a science fiction story. What an amazing concept.

Unfortunately, it falls flat, for several reasons: the narrator is unengaging and tedious. The secondary characters are cardboard cutouts from a gothic novel. The resolution to the science fiction story is phenomenally unsatisfying. And there are several passages that, while beautifully written, bog the story down and have no thrust.

This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the book. There were many portions that I certainly did enjoy. That I finished this in three days should indicate that, if nothing else, Atwood knows how to keep a reader engaged. And there are moments of such startling originality that I had to lean back, put the book down and say out loud, 'my God, that's good writing.' Atwood, it must be said, has a remarkable talent.

She's got, however, a few serious flaws as well. First of all, the narrator, Iris Chase Griffen. I know she's had a hard, hard life. I can't imagine going through half of the disastrous events she recounts: mother's death, father's death, a loveless marriage, supervising a loopy sister in a decaying mansion straight out of Jane Eyre. It's all quite tragic. She also makes it quite interminable. If we're going to be with this woman for the better part of 500 pages, we want to like her. But I don't think I've ever come across a more bitter, listless narrator. Everywhere, everywhere there's thunder and gloom and endless references to raped women and raw sewage.
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85 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Billy J. Hobbs VINE VOICE on November 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Not having read the other nominees, I can't compare, but the announcement that "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood has won this year's Booker Prize, I am not surprised. Atwood, having already written over a dozen novels, poetry, children's books, and some non-ficition, comes through with her latest in grand manner. A prolific writer she is indeed. That said, "The Blind Assassin" is an adventure--not to mention quite an ambitious undertaking--to read. Included in her convoluted plot line is a "novel within a novel" (see Reginald Hill's "Arms and the Women"!)--so be prepared to pay attention. Atwood's style of writing, however, is anything but convoluted; it is straight forward, but complicated, with expertly created characters.
The book is told by Iris who recounts her sister's death in Toronto in 1945, when she drives her car off a bridge. The inquest indicates that the death is accidental. Then Atwood introduces us to her "novel within a novel" entitled "The Blind Assassin." Told by a pair of anonymous lovers, the book stretches into science fiction--absorbing on its own as an intriguing story! What seems amazing about this work is the expert craftsmanship that Atwood possesses (and presemts), although, given her reputation, that is not surprising. She also captures the 1930s-40s atmosphere quite well, too! The novel is tiered, and the author explores each level, one by one, until the final pages.
With her themes of greed, love, and (inevitably) revenge, the story is right out of the Greek tragedies (well, actually, not, as "tragic" is not really exploited!). Be prepared to spend some time with this work--but it will be time well spent. What an intriguing novel! (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)
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