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The Blind Assassin: A Novel Paperback – August 28, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 613 customer reviews

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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Atwood's Booker Prize–winning novel, with its 1930s setting and stories within stories, is well suited to audio dramatization. O'Brien has simplified and streamlined the structure so that it jumps around in time less and makes clearer parallels between past, present and the whimsical internal novel. Some dialogue has been added, while many meditative and descriptive sections are absent, but the new words blend gracefully with Atwood's own, and her elegant style remains intact despite the omissions. Abundant sound effects make the production much richer than many audiobooks; it sometimes seems like a movie without the visuals, with chirping birds, clinking silverware and the murmur of crowds filling in the background. Music that alternates between a lovely, slightly melancholy theme and an ominous one, helps highlight the shifts from the protagonist Iris's personal history to her retelling of the novel. The skills of the cast almost make such extras unnecessary: the three women who play Iris at different ages capture her brilliant but frustrated spirit perfectly, while the actresses for her troubled younger sister, Laura, find just the right blend of dreaminess and defiance. Though in some respects this adaptation is less intricate than the rather complicated original, the condensation serves it well, making the story more tightly wound and intense in a way that should attract listeners who may be put off by Atwood's writing. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 521 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (August 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720953
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (613 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
If this book doesn't win the Booker Prize, then Margaret Atwood will never get to give Thomas Mallon his much-deserved comeuppance for the snide review he wrote of it for the New York Times Book Review. Because I respect Mallon and have enjoyed more than one of his books, I took this review to heart (fool that I am), wasting several weeks before discovering for myself how much fun I've been missing out on! Perhaps, however, Mallon was just playing the role of "The Blind Assassin" when he wrote it.

Because of the number of excellent plot summaries already posted here, I'll save the space and not repeat them. Atwood's female characters here are as complex and intriguing as they are in Cat's Eye. Her descriptions are so specific that every aspect of the setting comes vibrantly to life, and it is easy to imagine every detail (yes, even the much maligned simile of a loaf of bread as bland-tasting "as an angel's buttock").

The plot evolves on three distinct, but parallel, planes, giving a triple whammy to Atwood's themes, while several different time frames keep the story full of mystery and excitement. Best of all, Atwood brings all the threads of the story together for a truly thrilling, rock 'em, sock 'em grand finale. If you've been wondering why the odds are so good that Atwood will win the Booker, read the book. This will certainly NOT be a consolation prize! Mary Whipple
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