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The Blind Assassin: A Novel Paperback – August 28, 2001
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"The first great novel of the new millennium." —Newsday
"Absorbing... expertly rendered... Virtuosic storytelling [is] on display." —The New York Times
"Brilliant... Opulent... Atwood is a poet.... as well as a contriver of fiction, and scarcely a sentence of her quick, dry yet avid prose fails to do useful work, adding to a picture that becomes enormous." —John Updike, The New Yorker
"Chilling... Lyrical... [Atwood's] most ambitious work to date." —The Boston Globe
"Hauntingly powerful.... A novel of luminous prose, scalpel-precise insights and fierce characters... Atwood's new work is so assured, so elegant and so incandescently intelligent, she casts her contemporaries in the shade." —The Atlanta Journal--Constitution
"Grand storytelling on a grand scale... Sheerly enjoyable." —The Washington Post Book World
"Bewitching... A killer novel.... Atwood's crisp wit and steely realism are reminiscent of Edith Wharton... A wonderfully complex narrative." —The Christian Science Monitor
"A tour de force." —Chicago Tribune
From the Inside Flap
The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But 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, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist. Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.
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I am reluctant to touch on the plot at all because doing so could upset a reader's experience. Suffice it to say, the novel focuses on a portion of the lives of two Canadian sisters in the interwar period. A key driver is their gradually deteriorating financial circumstances.
Structurally, the novel is ambitious, and gives us the piecemeal composition of three different books, albeit sometimes obliquely. There is a mystery of sorts and the reveals occur only vaguely. The reader kind of realizes that he or she has known a crucial thing for some number of pages, and came to know it at exactly the appropriate time.
I haven't read the other books that were nominated for the Booker Prize in 2000 but that this won is not surprising. It is both complex and accessible, which is not an easy feat.
Much of the main story of "The Blind Assassin" is told through long interior monologues by 83-year-old Iris. Iris is a sharp observer who can be very witty and whose wisdom is hard-won, but Atwood's detailing of her routines, like endless trips to the donut shop (with long meditations on donut holes), tried this reader's patience. On the other hand, when all of the pieces of the puzzle came together at the end of the book, I had a definite "Oh, wow" moment and found much to contemplate: the vulnerability of youth; the scars of family life; generational change; love and responsibility; fate vs. will/agency; memory and regret; blindness (whether willful or thoughtless); the burdens of old age; and how it is that some of us make it and some of us don't. "The Blind Assassin" could have been 100 pages shorter but it certainly has something to say to everyone.
If I thought summarizing the book up was hard, I can say that telling you why I loved this book is equally difficult. It’s no secret that Atwood has a way with words and is able to weave a complex story with complete ease, but she is also able to foster empathy for misunderstood characters. Atwood manages to recreate a world where the suppression of women is commonplace, but not evil, while at the same time punctuating the story with little rebellions by strong women. Feminism in the 1930’s was of a very different variety than today and Atwood‘s ability to capture both the the reality of the times and the subtle ways women rebelled is nothing short of stunning.