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The Blind Assassin
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Kris | 254 comments Mod
This is the place to discuss The Blind Assassin.

I must admit - this was a book that you had to put some effort into. Each word seemed specifically and intentionally chosen to convey a certain layer or meaning to every scene. It was not a book to be devoured, but rather a book that required you to commit - to linger in the fine details.

I loved the narrator Iris. Loved her witticisms and sharp insights about life. In fact, I plan to let my old family friend Carole know that I feel like SHE narrated the book. (Hopefully, she'll take that as the compliment it's intended as, since she's a retired English teacher!)

I figured out fairly early on that it was Iris and not Laura who penned the novel. Laura was too much of a space cadet to have put together something so coherent, to my mind.

I was slightly confused about the events immediately leading up to Laura's suicide. Here's my take - Laura was also in love with Alex, but was waiting for him, rather than having an affair with him, like Iris (or WAS she having an affair with him, also??). When Iris told her that Alex had been killed, her master plot of seducing Richard, in order to save herself, was all for naught, and she kills herself.

Seems like Iris takes the blame, internally, for Laura's death, even though Laura would appear to have been a pretty lost cause from early on - to call her an "odd duck" (for her time period) would be an understatement. Women just didn't DO certain things. Or, if they did, they carefully concealed them (Iris, Winnifred, Grandmother Adelia)

All in all, this is a rather bleak look at being a woman in the early part of the 20th certury, I'd say.

Your thoughts???

message 2: by Martha (last edited Nov 30, 2015 12:52PM) (new) - added it

Martha (martha_waters) I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. SO MUCH. That emoji with the heart-eyes? That was me, the whole time I was reading.

I'd never read any Margaret Atwood other than The Handmaid's Tale (which I also loved), and what I loved about The Blind Assassin is that it's just as feminist as The Handmaid's Tale, just in a different way -- about the past, rather than a terrifying future.

This book probably isn't for everyone, and it's definitely one you have to take your time with, but I thought it was so, so worth it. The writing was incredible -- there were so many passages that gave me chills, that I had to read multiple times to fully appreciate. It managed to be sad, somewhat bleak, without leaving me totally depressed about human nature, and it was still full of razor sharp wit the whole way through.

The two women at the heart of this book, Iris and Laura, are so well-drawn and vividly characterized that I feel like I know them. I didn't realize that Laura wrote The Blind Assassin until late in the book (I realized it was about Iris earlier, of course, but I somehow thought Laura had figured out about Alex and Iris and written some sort of imagining of their relationship? I don't know) but what I love about this book is that while there is a really obvious puzzle at its heart from the beginning - why did Laura kill herself? - as the book goes on, you realize more and more that there are things you didn't know you didn't know. It's an impressive balancing act of a book.

(Also, Kris, to answer your question about the events directly resulting in Laura's suicide - which were indeed confusing! - the way I read it was: Laura was in love with Alex, but it was all one-sided and never consummated. Richard was raping her, and holding threats to reveal Alex's whereabouts over her head to keep her silent about it. It was the revelation from Iris that Alex was dead - making Laura's efforts to keep him safe all for naught - that drove her over the edge. BUT did others read this differently? It was vague.)

Anyway. Look. I loved this book, as I've said, and I also now really want to re-read it with the knowledge from the start that the Blind Assassin chapters are about Iris, not Laura, which I think would put a really interesting spin on the whole thing.

Literary fiction is rough sometimes for me because it often takes such a bleak view of human nature, of all humans. This book I could handle because while it had lots of people making mistakes and doing bad things, I still emerged from it caring deeply about Laura, and Iris, and even Alex (who could be a jackass, let's admit it, but still I thought a really great character). These people weren't perfect, but they felt real. And I cared about them.

tl;dr: I loved this and it made me cry and I want to read it again right away.

Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1332 comments Mod
I am still 100 pages out (after nearly 6 weeks) but I am trying to get this done ASAP. Agree that I love Iris. I sort of hate Laura. Well, not "sort of" but more like a lot. She is so destructive, so passive aggressive, so self-involved, so unable to apply reason to her decision, it is just hard to feel anything positive. I disliked her more than I disliked Winifred, but then I know social climbers, I understand them; Laura I did not understand at all.

message 4: by Martha (new) - added it

Martha (martha_waters) Bonnie wrote: "I am still 100 pages out (after nearly 6 weeks) but I am trying to get this done ASAP. Agree that I love Iris. I sort of hate Laura. Well, not "sort of" but more like a lot. She is so destructive, ..."

What I liked about this book is that I found both Laura and Iris extremely frustrating at times, in ways that felt very real to me. Iris was SO passive that it drove me nuts, even given the constraints placed on her by society at the time, and yes Laura is very self-involved and just in her own world. But I still liked them! One thing I think I will find interesting after doing a reread at some point is seeing if I like Laura less when I know from the start that the nameless girl in The Blind Assassin is Iris, not her, because for the first half of the book, I was like -- look what happens to Laura when she gets a bit older! She has this really interesting secret life! I like her! And by the time I realized it wasn't Laura, I think I'd already formed an impression of her that might have been different than how I'd feel reading with the knowledge that Iris is that nameless girl with the lover.

Alicia | 336 comments Martha wrote: "One thing I think I will find interesting after doing a reread at some point is seeing if I like Laura less when I know from the start that the nameless girl in The Blind Assassin is Iris, not her, because for the first half of the book, I was like -- look what happens to Laura when she gets a bit older! She has this really interesting secret life! I like her! And by the time I realized it wasn't Laura, I think I'd already formed an impression of her that might have been different than how I'd feel reading with the knowledge that Iris is that nameless girl with the lover. "

I'm almost through - but it's been so long since my first read that I had forgotten it was Iris with the lover!

It's a tricky read. So well constructed but the lives they are leading are so painful.

My reading is similar to Martha's - Richard was raping Laura. He impregnated her and had her institutionalised for the abortion and to convince people she was crazy. Laura was a space cadet but at times insightful. She knew Iris hadn't believed her when she said their tutor was molesting her and I think she thought that Iris was not likely to believe her about Richard.

I have more thoughts but haven't had my coffee yet and can't make them work.

message 6: by Katie (new)

Katie (faintingviolet) | 88 comments I'm one of the ones who dropped this book early on. I am not a big Atwood fan, but I wanted to give her another shot. However, I think my mistake may have been in attempting this via audiobook. I got about 10% of the way in and could not keep the plot straight or find it in me to care at all about keeping the characters organized.

I was however able to use Audible's return policy and it went incredibly smoothly. So, I got that positive out of the experience.

message 7: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy (xj2608) Reading Margaret Atwood is too much like work for me to really enjoy her books. But, boy, can she construct sentences to convey mood and image and feeling! I ended up skimming the last half of the book, because I did want to finish it.

Like Martha and Alicia, I got that Laura was Richard's victim, as she had been the victim of the tutor. She killed herself because the thing that had been getting her through life (waiting for Alex to return from the war) was taken from her - and doubly so, since she found that her sister had taken him as a lover first.

I found Laura to be likeable enough - she was a strange kid, but true to herself. I never got the impression that her refusal to conform was a ploy to irritate so much as an unwillingness to compromise her principles.

Iris was irritating to me, because I find that level of dissociation from others to be not very believable. Sure, she married Richard for her father's sake, but she didn't really seem to have any warm feelings for her father otherwise. He was a drunk who dragged her to the factory to learn about it, although she was not interested. She glosses over the loss of her daughter, and (of course, this was in the part I skimmed) didn't appear to make any effort to get her back or make any real connection once Aimee was an adult. She's clear that her husband and sister lie to her about her family (see: her father's death), but she makes no effort to contact her sister once she goes to the hospital to find out the truth. Also, half the book was a series of complaints about her health, which may or may not be a fairly accurate recounting of how people that age think. I think that (aside from the wordiness) the unreliability of the narrator is what kind of killed this book for me. The farther in I got, the less I liked Iris. I did, however, figure out about halfway through that Iris was the one sneaking away to meet Alex.

I'm certainly glad we took an extra month to read this one, even though it didn't really help me much!

Robin (whatpuckreads) | 6 comments This book was definitely a challenge. I took a seminar on Margaret Atwood in my senior year of college, and this was the one book that the class was unanimous on its difficulty. While it definitely wasn't my favorite, I really enjoyed it. Atwood isn't afraid to create characters that you don't like, and nearly everything she writes makes you uncomfortable in some way, which I love. It's a been a while since I read this book so I'll enjoy seeing other people's insight!

Rachell | 1 comments I loved this book, and had every intention to re-read it, but... I also have a 3-year-old and a new baby. I will just say that Atwood pulls off the difficult trick of combining a complex novelistic structure with real emotional engagement.

message 10: by Kris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kris | 254 comments Mod
I have questions.
The ABC list that he made - was that code used to meet with Iris or were they words he used in the sci-if book? Or both? When Iris finds it, she remarks that she is familiar with the words.
When Iris finds the list of days that Richard and Laura were together, at the end it says something like "besotted." I took that to mean that he wasn't raping Laura, per se, but that she had orchestrated it as a way to get what she wanted... which obviously backfired.


Joanna (joannan) | 1 comments This was my first Atwood and count me in as one who liked it even though I have unanswered questions. I will admit that about 1/3 of the way in I started skipping/skimming the Blind Assassin parts and reading the Iris parts. I'm one of those readers who gets anxious when the plot tenses up and I just had to know! I agree about Iris not making much contact with Aimee or her granddaughter, but then again she was oblivious to Laura (her relationship with Richard and the tutor and the strength of feelings for Alex and the truth about the clinic) as well.

As far as the code, I don't have the book with me, but a couple of the words unscrambled to LAURA and maybe IRIS or another name. I'd love to know if there was something significant about it that I've missed. Also, did Alex know Aimee was his? I can't remember.

message 12: by Kris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kris | 254 comments Mod
No, I don't believe Alex knew about Aimee.

message 13: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy (xj2608) Kris, I thought the "besotted" comment went back to a previous conversation where I think Richard told Iris that he was besotted with her. But I can't remember thoroughly. I did not get the impression that Laura was besotted.

message 14: by Kris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kris | 254 comments Mod
Oh no, not that Laura was besotted, but that Richard was besotted with her, so she had achieved her goal of manipulating him...

message 15: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy (xj2608) OK - but I didn't really see Laura as manipulative. Of course, that may have been in the part I skimmed. I thought Laura just went her own way according to her own set of rules, and didn't care to conform to society or to family. I also thought that because of her removal from earthly concerns, she had no idea how to protect herself from predators, like the tutor and like Richard. I thought she was also canny enough to realize that Richard and his sister were extremely manipulative and she wouldn't be able to outdo them.

Why do you see Laura as manipulative?

message 16: by Kris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kris | 254 comments Mod
It wasn't that I necessarily saw her as specifically manipulative - I was just trying to rationalize why the dates/Xs on her sheet would end with "besotted."

Unless it was written by Richard? Or unless "besotted" in this case meant PREGNANT??

message 17: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy (xj2608) I just thought it was a (slightly heavy handed, because how would Laura know the import?) literary tool to show what a sleazeball Richard was - he was repeating something to Laura that he had said to his wife.

message 18: by Bonnie G. (last edited Dec 10, 2015 07:56AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1332 comments Mod
I am doing this with my eyes mostly closed to avoid spoilers (50 pages left) but I thought you ladies would be very interested in this bit of news


message 19: by Bonnie G. (last edited Dec 13, 2015 08:15PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1332 comments Mod
So I FINALLY finished this book. It took me the whole of 2 months to get here, which is atypical.

Initially I thought I was reading slowly because the language was so gorgeous I wanted to read every word. Maybe that is the reason it started slowly. As the book progressed though. I think the way the book was written slowed me down. Just when I would get engrossed in the book, bam it would change to a newspaper article, or to the SciFi pulp and I was kicked out of the "can't wait to find out what happens next" reading experience I love. Someone mentioned above that they ended up skimming the pulp sections, and I did the same. I know I might have missed something important by reading that way, but I found those sections annoying and off-putting and largely irrelevant.

I liked the main story quite a bit. Iris is an interesting character. Not likeable really, but I don't care if characters are likeable. She kind of bounces back and forth between being a wimp and a bitch, but finding and following her motivations, sensing the pain her emotional remove had caused her, that was fun. I loved when she acknowledged that Richard comes out as a cardboard character in her telling of the story. She was playing a character when she was with him, of the submissive wife, but she also created a character for him and never seemed to attempt o get to know him. That made her affair with Alex less troubling, because she never seemed to be cheating on a real person. (Richard's own infidelities helped with this as well.)

I kind of hated Laura. Sure she may have been victimized.(She talks such crap and seems so delusional its hard to say whether her account can be trusted.) but being a victim does not make you interesting, and it does not make you less destructive to the people around her. She seemed like just another boring brat with borderline personality disorder and a martyr complex. I read something about her being so honest she had to say the things she did. People who say everything they think without regard to the effect of their words (and are over the age of 16) are just really crummy people, in life and in books. She has unexpressed anger, so she destroys other people's books and paintings She can't be with someone she thinks she loved (and did not have any real relationship with) when she was a teenager so she steals a car and drives off a bridge. She doesn't want to go to school so she abuses and upsets other students until she is kicked out. Maybe the worst offense committed by Laura is that she was so boring.

As for the twists: I knew Iris wrote the book very early on. Iris sees people at Laura's grave celebrating her, and she says something like they are always quoting her (Laura) and never me(Iris.) From there on in I knew that part. I also knew from the beginning that she had an affair with Alex. It was clear the woman in those sections was a rich and "fancy" type, which Laura wasn't. I never even thought it was Laura. The information about Laura and Richard surprised me, and the ways in which Richard met his end and Iris lost her relationship with her daughter were captivating and surprising.

In the end, I had some serious issues with this one, but I loved the language so much I am rating it a 4. That is probably too high, but there was so much prose that was so beautiful I had to reread passages over and over. That is worth the extra star.

And I think this is going to be my posted review.

Alicia | 336 comments Bonnie wrote: "I loved when she acknowledged that Richard comes out as a cardboard character in her telling of the story. ..."

Yes! It came at a point where I was thinking "I really don't have a handle on Richard".

I really liked the pulp bits, because those were the passages where I got the clearest sense of Iris as a character, and the biggest contrast between young Iris and old Iris.

Pamela | 314 comments Alicia wrote: "Bonnie wrote: "I loved when she acknowledged that Richard comes out as a cardboard character in her telling of the story. ..."

Yes! It came at a point where I was thinking "I really don't have a h..."

Oh, I hated Richard, And I know that is what we're supposed to think, in the extremes since Iris is telling. But still....not telling someone their dad died? Or raping your sister? Or burning down the factory (I've decided it was him)?

I liked this, although it could have been shorter. I listened to it and felt each time the time shifted I had to stop and figure out where we had last left that story. Confusion!

But in general I liked it. I started her new one last night and it is amazing!

message 22: by Karyn (new)

Karyn | 1 comments I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. So much so, when I was done, I re-read it to see how my perspective would change when I actually knew what was going on.

I think I liked Laura better the first time through because I kept waiting to discover when she would develop enough personality to have an affair with Alex. Of course I was about halfway through the first read when I realized it had to be Iris having the affair, or *an* affair, but was still curious, was he sleeping with both of them?? (Ugh. So glad that wasn't it).

On the re-read I noticed the clue early on that should have told me it was always Iris, but the beginning kind of slogged for me in the first reading and it took me a while to get into it. (The clue: she hid the photo in the Rock Gardening book. Laura wouldn't have done that).

I loved the pulp sections because it showed a different aspect of the woman, a side of her that we never saw in the main novel, whether I thought it was Laura or Iris. I think those were the only parts where we were able to see a "real" character; the rest of the book told the story of two girls who were basically invisible to everyone around them. As for the list of words, I never thought they were codes, just words Alex was playing with since he had to have been incredibly bored hiding in the attic. He made his living writing these stories, so he needed to keep working on his vocabulary :)

When Laura got sent away I figured she must be pregnant. I actually picked up on that when Richard's attitude changed towards her (usually I'm pretty oblivious to most clues while I'm reading...) And of course "besotted" did refer to the comment he also made to Iris when they were first married. Since he liked them young, I wasn't at all surprised that he thought Laura fair game. I was really sad to discover that she thought she was saving Alex by agreeing to Richard's dickishness; I had just figured he was bullying her into being raped. Not that that would have made it any better, just sad that she went along with it instead of telling Iris immediately. Of course it seems Laura thought Iris wouldn't have believed her, but I think by then Iris would have seen the truth right away. If she hadn't been so caught up with Alex I think she would have seen the truth anyways, but of course hindsight is always 20-20.

Anyways, it gave me a lot to think about and I'm glad I read it.

Pamela | 314 comments I was thinking about this last night- did I miss what happened to the assassin and the girl? The last I remember they had escaped and hidden in the hills. Were they mentioned again?

message 24: by Stuart (new)

Stuart Rae | 1 comments Four years later than the last post but after just finishing I wanted to put in my views while still fresh. Even if no one reads this..

I have to say Iris, while witty and under the pressures of the time, seems unapologetic for her failings. She allowed her sister to be taken away to an institute for many years with little fight. She delivered crushing news to Laura, the straw that broke the camel's back, with little thought as to the impact. Immediately her mind ran to avoiding a scandal - maybe this demonstrates the extent to which she was brainwashed by "society"?

I never took to Alex. I picture him as a cocky, scrounging, pseudo-intellectual (maybe I see too much of myself in him). I never got to understand his views or why they were formed. With him, an older man, manipulating two younger girls, there was a seedy edge. I wonder if the reason Iris loved him had little to do with him as a man. He was simply an escape which is why we never find out how the relationship developed - I assume it to be initially based around sex, then Iris liked being herself around him, or at least the time away from her prison. He was the adventure she longed for so much, to escape Port Ticonderoga, her role as the older sister, to define herself rather than be defined by others. Aside from this are we given any idea as to why Alex would deserve Iris' love and patience?

I also wonder if he really did burn down the factory...

I see the affair and her secrets as her "left hand", the disembodied one she refers to a few times, wandering with no roots. Her place in society is the "right hand", good and proper?

Richard and Winnie were despicable.

The father seemed like a stereotype of fathers at the time - and war veterans, perhaps for good reason.

Laura was always doomed to be let down by someone in such a way that there was no return.

My opinion is that Winnie the only truly "good" character in the book. Not quite sure what I mean by "good"; true to herself, unselfish? The same could go for Walter and Myra although we don't know enough about them.

Overall I really enjoyed the book and there was a bit of a struggle for me about a fifth of the way in where I felt the plot wasn't progressing much. You know, the hyper descriptive imagery. Still very well written. Some of the descriptions were crafted extremely well.

I appreciate that I'm seeing all this through modern views, and perhaps my takeaway should be more about the difficult circumstances people faced during these times when I'm being so judgemental.

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