The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

April 15, 2009 at 6:04 pm 6 comments

‘I’ve fallen into the habits of the solitary; my meals are snatched and random. Furtive snacks, furtive treats and picnics. I made do with some peanut butter, scooped directly from the jar with a forefinger: why dirty a spoon?’

This is terrible, but I feel you deserve the truth. Ready?

I am only blogging about this book because it is the perfect size to send home with the pile of books I’m shipping this week. No, these three ‘New Entry Days’ in a row are not just because we love you. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. I mean, I love you, but not that much.


The Blind Assassin is one of those books that Corey recommended and I subsequently saw everywhere, thereby convincing me that the universe wanted me to read it. Because the universe and I are usually at odds in some way or another, it sat near my bed for six months and two attempted readings before I managed to get through it.

That’s not to say the book is bad — on the contrary, as Corey had said, it’s beautifully written and the story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure is perfect. It takes skill to be able to write about a character and an older version of that character simultaneously with any degree of believablility, but luckily Margaret Atwood has such skill. Hence the Booker Prize this novel was awarded.

I think the novel’s greatest emotional feat is portraying old age in the first person. Though Atwood is currently 70 years of age, she wrote this novel at the age of 61, and I think that greatly affected her identification with Iris, the main character. Iris is almost obsessed with the need to write down her story before she dies, lending a sense of urgency especially to the last few chapters. There’s a heart-wrenching scene where she tries to do laundry and almost falls down the basement stairs that is amazingly well-written, and though I am sure Margaret Atwood is as spry as ever, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of Atwood’s own fears about growing older informed Iris’s character.

Also, I’d bet money on Atwood having a sister in real life. There’s simply no other way to describe her portrayal of Laura and Iris’s relationship except to say that she understands sisterhood on a fundamental level. Even without the beautiful structure and the fear of mortality that pervades the book, this would be an amazing story just because of the way Atwood expresses the older/younger sister dynamic.

However, while her understanding of sisters makes this a good story (well, and the fact that wow, this woman can write!), her structure, language, and expression of the human fear of death make this novel a masterpiece. No wonder it won the Booker Prize. Definitely a book worth buying, as well as keeping on your shelf to impress feminists, Canadians, and literature aficianados.


Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction. Tags: .

The Depressing Impermanence of Books Reading from a Late Winter into Spring

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  April 15, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    And she didn’t even go to school until she was 11 years old. Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it…

  • 2. KT  |  April 15, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Wow. I already knew she was amazing, but this just tops it. Jesus, is there anything this woman CAN’T do? I stumbled across a bunch of comics she did while on book tours today, which are absolutely adorable and funny and perfect and everything you’d expect. If she wasn’t so awesome, I’d hate her. Actually, I think I do, a little bit :\

  • 3. Corey  |  April 16, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    She does comics too?! Lordy! Indeed, I think I hate her a little bit now, too!

  • 4. KT  |  April 16, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Just little stick figure goofy ones, but they are adorable:

  • 5. Corey  |  April 16, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Oh they’re so wonderful! I LOVE them! Indeed, Margaret Atwood, let us all take from your books that we should definitely eat more prunes.

  • 6. neuroticmom  |  April 16, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    So this is how you were letting me know books are on the way? :) I just might have to break open the box and read this before you get here. :)


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