Wednesday, August 8, 2007

BOOK: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Booker Prize Winner 2000

I've read a few Margaret Atwood books now, Cat's Eye, The Handmaid's Tale, and Alias Grace, and I am still not sure if I like her books. There are elements of each that I like, but overall, I'm not a complete fan. I read them, but I never get immersed in the novel. The characters in this book have their flaws and I could never sympathize, empathize, or care enough about them to truly enjoy the novel.

There are several layers to this story. Iris Chase Griffen is the narrator of her life story both past and present, and at the same time, The Blind Assassin novel written by her late sister Laura, is told. This novel in the novel is the story of two clandestine lovers and the science fiction story they are telling each other. This sounds more confusing than it is, and that is where Atwood is a great author because it doesn't take long to understand. Iris' story is told from her writing and memories, and as well, newspaper clippings and letters.

There is a grand tale here, and I really enjoyed the setting of Ontario during the thirties. The Chase's were a rich industrialist family, facing hard times during the depression. The depressed economy and the beginning of unions and the communist threat are touched on, but because it is Iris' narrative and she was a naive, sheltered daughter, this aspect is just touched on in terms of how it related to her protected life. An instigator, Alex Thomas comes to town and becomes involved with the two sisters. Iris tells the story of Laura as well, but it is from Iris's perspective. I felt Iris was protective of Laura, but never really understood her.

Iris gets married off to her father's main competitor, Richard and his sister Winnifred. Still, Iris is just going through the motions, not really much of a participant in her own life and still tries to narrate the story. Viewing Toronto from the elite perspective was also interesting, since there was a depression on, yet these people were still living the high life. There is supposed to be some mystery here I think, but it seemed pretty obvious, so the suspense never really built for me. Any of the other so-so reviews I've read so far seem to have the same complaint; with no mystery to have revealed at the end, the story just falls a little flat. If you don't like the characters, then the plot has to carry the story and if the plot isn't there, then the characters have to be what you cheer for. I didn't feel like The Blind Assassin did it for me.

The whole science fiction story and how it paralleled the other story was the main part I didn't like. Sometimes I think I shouldn't read real literature because it takes too much thinking for me, how does this symbolize what Iris was? or where does Laura fit into this part of the story? Once I read some analysis, it made more sense, but some days I don't want to have to think so much. I can see why this story was written how it was, and it is very ambitious and well done, but overall, it didn't resonate with me. I felt too detatched from the characters since Iris herself wasn't very aware for much of her life.


  1. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who didn't care much for this one. I really loved The Handmaid's Tale, and I do intend on reading Cat's Eye and Alias Grace at some point. It'll be interesting to compare them to each other.

  2. I've read 4 of Atwood's novels now and this one was my least favourite. I still enjoyed it mind you, but I can see why you were less than thrilled.

  3. And it's not that I didn't like it, it just didn't make me care enough. Maybe I had too high of expectations. And I'm glad to hear it's not your favorite, John. I liked Alias Grace better.

  4. Ohhh, I love Atwood. :) Though, I didn't care for the science fiction parts of the book either. When the novel's novel was more about love, desire, wanting, yearning, I found it much more interesting than when the guy was telling the story. Does that make sense? I didn't like Iris either--felt she was an old whiny bat. Haha! But I liked the book nonetheless.


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