Emma's Reviews > The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
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Aug 02, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: all-time-best, fantasy, modern-lit
Recommended for: People who liked The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Atonement, or any other Atwood novel
Read in August, 2009

The Blind Assassin is the best book I have ever read in my entire life, no doubt. This novel has cemented that, in my mind, Atwood is a genius.

It's going to be difficult for me to write this review without spoiling anything (I am desperate not to do this, because the truth, when it is revealed, is so shocking and brutal that I will leave it to the better writers) and also it will be difficult to review this book fairly without falling into hyperbolic language. But to be fair, words like "perfection" "jaw-droppingly superb" and "absolutely fantastic" really don't do it justice.

The Blind Assassin is a tale of two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase, who come from a very rich family. Their father is well-respected and the owner of a successful button factory; their mother is a kind woman, though it seems to me that they are raised essentially by the servant and housekeeper, Reenie. On the first page, you are told that Laura Chase died at the end of the war by driving a car off a bridge and drowning. The rest of the novel tells the tale of what happened in the past and present, masterfully weaving from present day to the 1930s to the time after Laura's death, to back again. As the tale goes on, numerous more characters die, a lot of their deaths shrouded in mystery. All that you know, in the beginning, is that Laura is the author of the novel The Blind Assassin, which is also fed to the reader in drips and drabs, with unnamed characters (they are simply known as "he" and "she").

So what's so great about this novel? Well... how long have you got?

The structure of this (very long) novel is quite different to most. Set in, I believe, fifteen parts, it alternates between excerpts of The Blind Assassin and newspaper cuttings, and Iris as an old woman reliving the past, which forms the majority of the novel. I love this. It keeps you guessing all along just who the characters of The Blind Assassin are, until the very end.

This is also done through imagery. Atwood is quite simply a superb writer, and her evocative use of metaphoric "drowning" throughout shadows Laura's untimely end. This is done almost constantly, and it wasn't until the end that I realised Iris's statue of the angel, where Laura is buried, epitomises Laura absolutely. Yes she has her faults, but essentially she is pure innocent, used and abused throughout by the other, humanly flawed characters.

The characterisation is another plus.
No character can be absolutely hated (except maybe Winifred, but even there there may be something to pity). Reenie, despite being judgemental and critical, is a motherly figure, and when a certain character feels shamed by her, it hits home. Even Richard, perhaps a cardboard cutout villain, showed his humanity at the end by feeling love (who knew?!)- although perhaps it was self-pity which caused his ending (who knows?!).
But it is Iris's character which interests me the most. So weak, yet towards the end- strong. Thoughtless and cruel to Laura, she loved her perhaps more than anyone. Who knows why she did what she did, though I could reflect on it all day. As you can probably tell, this book has me obsessed.

A review isn't complete without some kind of criticism, though I struggle to find it. I am biased, because I love this book wholeheartedly, though I understand not everyone will be the same.
Perhaps it is overly long, and perhaps Atwood can be criticised as a cold writer. You don't see many tears at death, and there is no sentimentality. But I believe this comes from what is not said, and from what Atwood doesn't reveal- her characters do feel, but she does not feel the urge to have them spilling their guts and laying it all out on the table. This is left entirely up to the reader's interpretation.

All in all, for me The Blind Assassin will leave me thinking for a lot longer than it took to finish reading almost 650 pages. It is, in my mind, a masterpiece.
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