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   Blind Assassin, The, by Margaret Atwood  
 
  Novel, first publication in September 1947 , latest edition in September 2001
 
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      The Blind Assassin is a tale of two sisters, one of whom dies under ambiguous circumstances in the opening pages. The survivor, Iris Chase Griffen, initially seems a little cold-blooded about this death in the family. But as Margaret Atwood's most ambitious work unfolds--a tricky process, in fact, with several nested narratives and even an entire novel-within-a-novel--we're reminded of just how complicated the familial game of hide-and-seek can be:

    What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly, for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain.

    Meanwhile, Atwood immediately launches into an excerpt from Laura Chase's novel, The Blind Assassin, posthumously published in 1947. In this double-decker concoction, a wealthy woman dabbles in blue-collar passion, even as her lover regales her with a series of science-fictional parables. Complicated? You bet. But the author puts all this variegation to good use, taking expert measure of our capacity for self-delusion and complicity, not to mention desolation. Almost everybody in her sprawling narrative manages to--or prefers to--overlook what's in plain sight. And memory isn't much of a salve either, as Iris points out: "Nothing is more difficult than to understand the dead, I've found; but nothing is more dangerous than to ignore them." Yet Atwood never succumbs to postmodern cynicism, or modish contempt for her characters. On the contrary, she's capable of great tenderness, and as we immerse ourselves in Iris's spliced-in memoir, it's clear that this buttoned-up socialite has been anything but blind to the chaos surrounding her.

    Source: Darya Silver, Amazon.com.





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    Blind Assassin
    by Margaret Eleanor Atwood


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    Editorial Reviews
    Amazon.com
    The Blind Assassin is a tale of two sisters, one of whom dies under ambiguous circumstances in the opening pages. The survivor, Iris Chase Griffen, initially seems a little cold-blooded about this death in the family. But as Margaret Atwood's most ambitious work unfolds--a tricky process, in fact, with several nested narratives and even an entire novel-within-a-novel--we're reminded of just how complicated the familial game of hide-and-seek can be:

    What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly, for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain.
    Meanwhile, Atwood immediately launches into an excerpt from Laura Chase's novel, The Blind Assassin, posthumously published in 1947. In this double-decker concoction, a wealthy woman dabbles in blue-collar passion, even as her lover regales her with a series of science-fictional parables. Complicated? You bet. But the author puts all this variegation to good use, taking expert measure of our capacity for self-delusion and complicity, not to mention desolation. Almost everybody in her sprawling narrative manages to--or prefers to--overlook what's in plain sight. And memory isn't much of a salve either, as Iris points out: "Nothing is more difficult than to understand the dead, I've found; but nothing is more dangerous than to ignore them." Yet Atwood never succumbs to postmodern cynicism, or modish contempt for her characters. On the contrary, she's capable of great tenderness, and as we immerse ourselves in Iris's spliced-in memoir, it's clear that this buttoned-up socialite has been anything but blind to the chaos surrounding her. --Darya Silver --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

    From Publishers Weekly
    Family secrets, sibling rivalry, political chicanery and social unrest, promises and betrayals, "loss and regret and memory and yearning" are the themes of Atwood's brilliant new novel, whose subtitle might read: The Fall of the House of Chase. Justly praised for her ability to suggest the complexity of individual lives against the backdrop of Canadian history, Atwood here plays out a spellbinding family saga intimately affected by WWI, the Depression and Communist witch-hunts, but the final tragedy is equally the result of human frailty, greed and passion. Octogenarian narrator Iris Chase Griffen is moribund from a heart ailment as she reflects on the events following the suicide in 1945 of her fey, unworldly 25-year-old sister, Laura, and of the posthumous publication of Laura's novel, called "The Blind Assassin." Iris's voiceDacerbic, irreverent, witty and cynicalDis mesmerizingly immediate. When her narration gives way to conversations between two people collaborating on a science fiction novel, we assume that we are reading the genesis of Laura's tale. The voices are those of an unidentified young woman from a wealthy family and her lover, a hack writer and socialist agitator on the run from the law; the lurid fantasy they concoct between bouts of lovemaking constitutes a novel-within-a-novel. Issues of sexual obsession, political tyranny, social justice and class disparity are addressed within the potboiler SF, which features gruesome sacrifices, mutilated body parts and corrupt, barbaric leaders. Despite subtle clues, the reader is more than halfway through Atwood's tour de force before it becomes clear that things are not what they seem. Meanwhile, flashbacks illuminate the Chase family history. In addition to being psychically burdened at age nine by her mother's deathbed adjuration to take care of her younger sibling, na ve Iris at age 18 is literally sold into marriage to a ruthless 35-year-old industrialist by her father, a woolly-minded idealist who thinks more about saving the family name and protecting the workers in his button factories than his daughter's happiness. Atwood's pungent social commentary rings chords on the ways women are used by men, and how the power that wealth confers can be used as a deadly weapon. Her microscopic observation transforms details into arresting metaphors, often infused with wry, pithy humor. As she adroitly juggles three plot lines, Atwood's inventiveness achieves a tensile energy. The alternating stories never slacken the pace; on the contrary, one reads each segment breathlessly, eager to get back to the other. In sheer storytelling bravado, Atwood here surpasses even The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. BOMC main selection; author tour.
    Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

    From Library Journal
    Atwood does not mess around in her riveting new tale: by the end of the first sentence, we know that the narrator's sister is dead, and after just 18 pages we learn that the narrator's husband died on a boat, that her daughter died in a fall, and that her dead husband's sister raised her granddaughter. Dying octogenarian Iris Chasen's narration of the past carefully unravels a haunting story of tragedy, corruption, and cruel manipulation. Iris and her younger sister, Laura, are born into the privileged Canadian world of Port Ticonderoga in the early part of the 20th century. At 18, Iris is the marital pawn in a business deal between her financially desperate father and the ruthless, much-older industrialist Richard Griffen. When the father dies, the rebellious Laura is forced to move into Richard's controlling household, accelerating the tangled mess of relentless tragedy. At this point, Atwood brilliantly overlays a second story, an sf novel-within-a-novel, credited to Laura Chasen, that features nameless lovers trysting in squalor. Some readers may figure out Atwood's wrap-up before book's end. Worry notDnothing will dampen the pleasure of getting there. Highly recommended.
    -DBeth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
    Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

    The New York Times Book Review, Thomas Mallon
    ...the two parts of Atwood's big new book feel like separate projects that have been soldered together rather than thematically connected. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

    From AudioFile
    Margaret Atwood's latest Booker Prize-winning novel is a mystery nested within a love story, nested within a century-spanning exploration of a woman's life. These layered stories within stories are told through a memoir, a novel, newspaper articles, and pulp science-fiction tales, and are expertly revealed by narrator Margot Dionne. She fully inhabits octogenarian Iris Chase Griffin as her Canadian cadences shift subtly from mature Iris to the younger self she's remembering and all the others who have peopled Iris's life. Dionne's narration is hypnotic and moody, mapping out Atwood's social and emotional geography, the many little hurts and betrayals, and the hopes. Listeners will find themselves piecing together the clues, guessing at truths, but the rewards are to be found in the layering of details and the skill of the storytelling. J.M.D. 2001 Audie Award Finalist for Solo Female Narration. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

    Book Description
    “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” These words are spoken by Iris Chase Griffen, married at eighteen to a wealthy industrialist but now poor and eighty-two. Iris recalls her far from exemplary life, and the events leading up to her sister’s death, gradually revealing the carefully guarded Chase family secrets. Among these is “The Blind Assassin,” a novel that earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, it was a pulp fantasy improvised by two unnamed lovers who meet secretly in rented rooms and seedy cafés. As this novel-within-a-novel twists and turns through love and jealousy, self-sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real narrative, as both move closer to war and catastrophe. Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning sensation combines elements of gothic drama, romantic suspense, and science fiction fantasy in a spellbinding tale.

     
     
      Related theme(s)  
     
     
  • 20th Century
  • Earth
  • Mystery
  • Romance - Love Story

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