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The Blind Assassin [Paperback]

Margaret Atwood
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (220 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 25 2003
“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.


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"It's loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward," writes Margaret Atwood, towards the end of her impressive and complex new novel, The Blind Assassin. It's a melancholic account of why writers write--and readers read--and one that frames the different lives told through this book. The Blind Assassin is (at least) two novels. At the end of her life, Iris Griffen takes up her pen to record the secret history of her family, the romantic melodrama of its decline and fall between the two World Wars. Conjuring a world of prosperity and misery, marriage and loneliness, the central enigma of Iris's tale is the death of her sister, Laura Chase, who "drove a car off a bridge" at the end of the Second World War. Suicide or accident? The story gradually unfolds, interspersed with sketches of Iris's present-day life--confined by age and ill-health--and a second novel, The Blind Assassin by Laura Chase. Allowing a glimpse into a clandestine love affair between a privileged young woman and a radical "agitator" on the run, this version of The Blind Assassin is an overt act of seduction: the exchange of sex and story about an imaginary world of Sakiel-Norn (a play with the potential, and convention, of fantasy and sci-fi).

With the intelligence, subtlety and remarkable characterisation associated with Atwood's writing (from her first novel, The Edible Woman through to the best-selling Alias Grace), these two stories play with one another--sustaining an uncertainty about who has done what to who and why to the very end of this compelling book. --Vicky Lebeau --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Atwood's Booker Prize–winning novel, with its 1930s setting and stories within stories, is well suited to audio dramatization. O'Brien has simplified and streamlined the structure so that it jumps around in time less and makes clearer parallels between past, present and the whimsical internal novel. Some dialogue has been added, while many meditative and descriptive sections are absent, but the new words blend gracefully with Atwood's own, and her elegant style remains intact despite the omissions. Abundant sound effects make the production much richer than many audiobooks; it sometimes seems like a movie without the visuals, with chirping birds, clinking silverware and the murmur of crowds filling in the background. Music that alternates between a lovely, slightly melancholy theme and an ominous one, helps highlight the shifts from the protagonist Iris's personal history to her retelling of the novel. The skills of the cast almost make such extras unnecessary: the three women who play Iris at different ages capture her brilliant but frustrated spirit perfectly, while the actresses for her troubled younger sister, Laura, find just the right blend of dreaminess and defiance. Though in some respects this adaptation is less intricate than the rather complicated original, the condensation serves it well, making the story more tightly wound and intense in a way that should attract listeners who may be put off by Atwood's writing. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unwinding of Male Dominance July 16 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Having stuck it out through thick and thin with this sometimes complex and twisty novel, I can now truly say the experiene was rewarding. Margaret Atwood once again lives up to her reputation as one of Canada's finest fictional writers. This novel is one of those rare works that effectively blends form and content to provide an entertaining and instructive story about life in high society in southern Ontario during the 20th century. The structure - the multiple-layering of stories - takes a little sorting out, but when the big picture finally emerges halfway through the book, the reader will be rewarded with a very clear understanding of Atwood's working philosophy. The plot is mainly about the two Chase sisters growing up together in the town of Port Ticonderoga during the 1920s. They are members of a wealthy family who during the Great Depression fall on hard times and virtually lose everthing. The moments together during the good and bad times are told much later as the older sibling, Iris, reflects on the life they once lived together and how it eventually fell apart because of circumstances beyond their control. Her reflective account grapples with why she and Laura, once so inseparable, eventually drifted apart and went their own separate tragic ways. Included in this tale are moments of intrigue, love, fantasy, injustice and tragedy, all cleverly woven together around a theme that is found in many of Atwood's writings: the incredible dominating power of the male sex drive to limit and control women. These two women unfortunately fall into the clutches of Richard Griffen, an up-and-coming political star, who marries the older one to enhance his public image while sexually exploiting the younger one. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars complex sci-fi and historical novel June 24 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is a complex work of fiction composed of 3 sections woven together like the parts of an Oriental rug: 1)The first, and the main, section is a historic reminiscence narrated by Iris Chase Griffen, daughter of a Canadin button manufacturer.
Her upbringing in Port Ticonderoga, Ontario at the Avilion estate is portrayed in rich detail in a series of flashbacks, including her relationship with all members of her family and in particular, with her younger sister Laura. We are given a great deal of historic detail about this period, particularly about World War I and attempts at unionization of the button factory, and we are given details about several generations of Iris's family; in addition, both Iris and Laura's personalities are described in some detail and there are significant differences between them. 2)The second section is an elaborately detailed science fiction story which is woven between the chapters of the main narrative and is narrated by an unknown author to his unknown lover in a series of seedy apartment buildings, contrasting sharply with the opulence of Avilion. We do not understand the connection until the end. The science fiction story itself also contrasts for the most part significantly with the somewhat halcyon life at Avilion, since it includes a great deal of gratuitous violence and appears to be about some sci-fi tribe out of the Dark Ages. 3) The third section is a series of "newspaper articles" of familial or newsworthy interest which are interwoven between the other two stories. Through them, we learn more about World War I, about attempts at unionization of the button factory, about deaths in the family, and about social events significant to the family.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Not Atwood's Best June 6 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I love Margaret Atwood (except for the occasional clunker she's come out with - a/k/a "Life Before Man", "Surfacing" and "Bodily Harm") and was very much looking forward to her latest. And, up until the last chapter or so, she did not disappoint. I was mesmerized (I even willingly read the story-within-a-story, and I loathe science fiction tales of any type) Unfortunately, though, it seems as though Atwood was writing on a deadline, or perhaps had run out of ideas. Certainly, toward the end, the story became a bit muddled and, surprisingly, left many plot holes:...
Additionally, the language, which up to the book's climax, had been of sterling Atwood quality ("... can never stop howling") somehow becomes short and stilted. "We were lovers, you see, in secret..." When I got to that line, I had a very difficult time equating it with any other dialogue in the book. It was too blunt, too sharp and failed to blend well with the rest of the writing (I thought of several other ways in which the author could have played that scene... definitely in a much gentler manner more in keeping with her prose)
And finally, the narrator's obsession with death and "being a skull", etc. was just a bit too much after a while. Yes, we know she has health problems, we know she's elderly... but does the reader have to be beaten over the head with such blatant morbidity?
All in all, I felt a great deal of what was otherwise a wonderful story fell through the cracks and that much space was wasted on Alex's sci-fi tale (yes, I saw the correlations between the characters and the story; however, I felt that the Xenon story could easily have been cut by two-thirds and still have made a point).
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Few hundred pages for a century in Canada!
This was my first book of Atwood and it certainly encourages me to read more of her. I am fan of thick books with a historical context. Read more
Published on Sept. 29 2010 by Littérature sans frontières
5.0 out of 5 stars love Margaret Atwood!
It's like reading three books in one, the way it is written. Again, Atwood is still the best..
Published on May 6 2010 by lafleurpetite
5.0 out of 5 stars Plot Unfolds Layer by Layer
Highly recommend! This has moved to the top of my list as best book read this year. Wonderful story. Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2007 by Nicola Mansfield
1.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
This novel is hard to follow, just as you settle into the story the author introduces a novel within the novel, plus a science fiction story and newspaper articles. Read more
Published on June 26 2007 by Toni Osborne
5.0 out of 5 stars complex masterpiece
No book was ever more deserving of the Booker Prize, but one must be willing to put up with the unfolding of the plot which is something of a Chinese puzzle box. Read more
Published on June 24 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars social history of the early 20th Century
"The Blind Assassin" is a social history of the early 20th Century from the viewpoint of Iris Chase, the daughter of a prominent Canadian industrialist. Read more
Published on June 19 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars social history
Unlike her newer "Oryx and Crake" a pure science fiction satire on modern Corporate America, "The Blind Assassin" is largely social history of a Canadian industrialist's family in... Read more
Published on June 15 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
I picked up this book because of it's title. "The Blind Assassin" has a romantic ring to it. When I finished the book, I was only 14 and yet I could relate to everything Iris had... Read more
Published on June 8 2002 by Ms. Sixty
5.0 out of 5 stars I am new at this
Hearing books is new to me. This is my second experience and I find this rendering very good. The book itself is worh a read, but the narrator seems to make it a lot more fun.
Published on May 28 2002 by Luis GARCIA LAURENT
3.0 out of 5 stars Try 3 other novels
A story within a story within a story. The novelist writting about a woman writting about a novelist (her sister) and we get the sister's novel to boot and guess what? Read more
Published on May 20 2002 by THX1138b
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