mark monday's Reviews > The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
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Mar 13, 2016

it was amazing
bookshelves: into-the-past, alpha-team, these-fragile-lives

atwood's Booker Prize-winning novel is a slow and melancholy downward movement, one in which the melancholy becomes cumulative. despite the sad and tragic tone, there are many paths to pure enjoyment present: through the precise, judgmental, drily amusing recollections of the narrator as she recounts her current life and her past life between the world wars; through the intense, intimate, yet almost metaphorical scenes of two lovers connecting, not connecting, reconnecting; through the wonderful pastiche of golden era science fantasy tales featuring mute sacrificial victims, blind child assassins, erotic peach women, deadly lizard men. but despite those paths to enjoyment, each narrative strand is based in despair, in missed opportunities, in moribund ritual, in the end of things. there is no wish fulfillment available on any level, and the novel's main mystery - although surprising and having a revenge-filled punch at the end - is still such a sad one to contemplate. motivations are revealed, characters you thought you knew become transformed, reversals of fortune happen in the space of a paragraph, and yet what i was left with by the end was a sadness at recognizing the impossibility of true happiness, true love, true fulfillment. well, at least in the world of Blind Assassin!

the novel is bleak. and yet it is beautiful as well, and truly compassionate towards the two women at its heart. the writing itself is, in a word, awesome. i'm not sure there is an English language writer living who can construct so many artful, evocative, poetic passages without sliding into over-writing. time and again i would stop to re-read a phrase or a paragraph just to enjoy the beauty and depth of what was written. nor does Blind Assassin beat the reader down with despair; much of the time i was so absorbed with the careful description of life in port ticonderoga between the wars and with enormously well-developed characters that i was able to not feel as if i was in a boat slowly drifting towards a waterfall. but in the end, that waterfall was there, and the characters and the reader all eventually tumble over. such as sad experience!


poor laura chase, the secret and tragic hero of Blind Assassin. a fascinating, frustrating character. by the end, her motivations revealed, it all made so much sense. not a temptress, neither vindictive nor vacant, but simply a person out of place and out of her time. her motivation: to do good, to understand God, to live for herself, to not live in a world of deceit or corruption. i fell in love with her a little bit. but really, she's too deep for me, too strange, too...not for this world.

iris griffen: i was reminded of many things when trying to understand her character: the tunnel-vision of those madly in love, their inability to recognize the thoughts and feelings of others; the frustrating blankness of those who let life carry them along, the placidity that may appear to conceal depth but often is only a symptom of disengagement; and the potential villainy of that passivity, that blankness. this is a woman who thoughtlessly destroys her sister's reason for living, who does nothing when that sister is carted off to an asylum, who rejects the obvious need for love from her daughter, who lets her daughter and granddaughter get carted away from her, whose primary attribute is inaction. until she is, at long last, able to engage in some good old fashioned revenge. Blind Assassin has a pair of truly repulsive villains, but the the reader is not allowed to see inside of them. their motivations remain both shallow and shadowy. but iris griffen is the real deal: a character whose motivations the reader comes to understand, a person whose yearning for love and for redemption and for independence is expressed in no uncertain terms, a woman who is rendered so three-dimensionally that the reader comes to understand almost every part of her, a villain whose passivity allows the destruction of those she should protect.
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03/13 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-31)

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message 31: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Vinogradus I have been and remain sceptical about this novel, but I am now tempted and compelled to determine what about it could elicit such beautiful writing as your review.
I am prepared to be disappointed by the novel, but I will still be able to treasure the pleasure of reading your review.

message 30: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday thank you Ian for your exceedingly nice words! much appreciated. i am looking forward to reading your thoughts on the novel - there is a lot to contemplate in Blind Assassin.

Aloha Mark, I only read part of your review, since I want to be surprised by the book. I'm almost done with it and can't wait to read the rest of your review. What I've read is great.

message 28: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday thanks aloha, and i am looking forward to your own review. don't read past that spoiler!

Naren Thanks for the eloquent review. I'm overly melancholic but I actually took immense pleasure in this bleak book. I loved all of the worlds -- and there are many -- in this novel. The only point where my sentiments diverge from yours regard Iris: I feel like the wreckage wrought wasn't a function of solipsism or selfishness but rather from her desperate desire to hold on to things that can't be held. In Hamlet Polonius advises: "those friends thou hast...grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel." She may not have been very good at loving but her own self-condemnation is so brutal that it becomes easy to forgive.

I was destined to love this book since it centers itself on my three favorite things: socialism, sex and storytelling. It's a deft trifecta. [Okay, that should be love instead of sex but the alliteration was too tempting.]

message 26: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Vinogradus A less deft, but more left, trifecta would be lovely left-wing literature.

message 25: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday thanks Chandra! you make a very good point about Iris - i agree with seeing in her that "desperate desire to hold on to things that can't be held". but i see that desire as sitting alongside an intense (although not specifically malicious) form of self-centeredness. one that makes her contemplation of those things that can't be held - even when she is actually holding on to them - to be so encompassing that nearly everything else is shut out or ignored or misunderstood. and so the tragedies that result from her inaction and from her inability to leave the world of her own desperate desires.

but, also as you say, there is so much honesty in her eventual self-condemnation that it is hard not to sympathize (if not empathize) with her in the end.

Naren You are quite right; she is an assassin blinded in childhood by the manufacture of opulence. She is neither guiltless nor guileless.

This was my first foray into Atwood; now I have a paralyzing fear of her other works lest they prove...lesser. Foolish, I know, but there it is. Do you find this work on par with her others?

message 23: by mark (last edited Aug 29, 2011 11:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday wow, chandra, this is excellent: she is an assassin blinded in childhood by the manufacture of opulence. beautifully said. and so true. i completely agree.

i have fully enjoyed the other two novels i've read by atwood: The Handmaid's Tale and The Robber Bride. however, i will also sadly say that they are definitely not on par with Blind Assassin, in my opinion. still, they are both excellent and quite worthy. worth a read. just maybe take some time before you read them, so they are not automatically compared - unfavorably - in the mind.

message 22: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant I meant to say, a while back... great review!

message 21: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday Well thank you, Paul!

Elena Petelos A wonderful review! Thank you for reminding me what a great book this is.

message 19: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday thanks Elena!

message 18: by Tom (new)

Tom Fantastic review. Gave me a better perspective on the book. I'm a bit of a newbie when it comes to Atwood's unique style and your observations helped me to "get" what she was going for. Super good

message 17: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday thank you Tom, glad I could help!

Davytron Mark this is an excellent review! You always say all that I want to be able to say.

message 15: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday thanks Davy! this is an amazing book.

Agnieszka Great review ,Mark! This is one of my favourite books too.Thank you.

message 13: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday glad you enjoyed the review, Agnieszka

Rachel Harshitha guys! I'm currently on page 88. How many more pages should I read for me to get into the story?
Fact 1: I loved Alias grace.Took about 150 pages and when she started telling her story I coudn't keep it down.
Fact 2: Coudn't finish Thef year of the flood. Love the writing but the story line itself was not interesting for me to finish it.

message 11: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday sad to say I don't know if you are going to end up loving this one, particularly due to your comments about Alias Grace and Year of the Flood. I would hate to advocate giving up on a book that I think is as intelligent, beautifully written, and moving as this one... but I just don't think it is for everyone.

Trudi mark wrote: "I would hate to advocate giving up on a book that I think is as intelligent, beautifully written, and moving as this one... but I just don't think it is for everyone..."

I am just going to jump in here with my two cents and the best of intentions -- as a Canadian I grew up with Atwood being shoved down my throat at every turn during high school and then a prolonged stint in academia. I can testify that she is most definitely *not* for everybody -- intelligent and provocative though her writing may be.

I would never dispute her talents as a novelist, but when she writes she is not writing for me, and I've made my peace with that. However, I do believe The Handmaid's Tale is a small piece of dystopian genius and should be required reading the world over.

mark monday I had no idea that Atwood was required reading in high school. huh. I guess it just never occurred to me that modern authors make the cut. I highly doubt I would have enjoyed this one back then.

Trudi mark wrote: "I had no idea that Atwood was required reading in high school. huh. I guess it just never occurred to me that modern authors make the cut. I highly doubt I would have enjoyed this one back then."

Atwood and Alice Munro are Canada's literary queens. It is impossible to make it through the school system here without encountering their work at least once if not half a dozen times.

I think their writing does require maturity as a reader and too often they are foisted upon new and inexperienced audiences who will end up hating them for the rest of their reading lives because they weren't ready.

That's not my excuse though. I've tried Atwood over the years at different times, but the result is always the same (except for Handmaid's Tale).

Rachel Harshitha Thanks guys! I'll give Atwood a break and read it after a few years.

Diane C. Thank you for this comprehensive review which, as far into it as I am, about a third, matches my own impressions of the book. I always end up loving these books that at first are kind of inscrutable and you wonder where is he/she going with this? Usually someplace magical and profound.

Cecily Well, you caught my attention in your first half-dozen words: I found this such a compulsive read, it didn't feel slow at all, though now you mention it, I can see that it is in some ways.

I agree about Laura as "a person out of place", but I think you're a tad harsh on Iris: she certainly ignored her daughter's need for love, but she did try to keep her, albeit weakly. But who could resist Winifred? And Iris was a damaged person, too.

Dagmar Jones Wonderful review that does the book a lot of justice. Thank you.

mark monday thank you for the kind words, Dagmar!

just noticed the other comments as well, sorry Cecily & Diane for not responding.

anyway, thanks Diane. and Cecily...

she certainly ignored her daughter's need for love, but she did try to keep her, albeit weakly

true, but to me the second part doesn't make up for the first part. ignoring her daughter's love is key, for me at least, in establishing Iris as the true villain of the novel. if "villain" is even the appropriate word.

message 2: by Cecily (last edited Mar 31, 2016 01:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily Is Iris even worse then Winifred?
(I'm not sure - even though it's less than a year since I read it.)

mark monday I think so. but worse than both of them was Richard, of course. still, Richard and Winifred's villainy is shallow, uncomplicated... there is a depth to Iris that they both lack, which makes her actions - to me at least - all the more awful.

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