Man Booker Prize, Fiction, 2000
For the past 25 years, Margaret Atwood has written works of striking originality and imagination. In The Blind Assassin, she stretches the limits of her accomplishment as never before, creating a novel that is both entertaining and profoundly serious.
The novel opens with these simple resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as you expect to settle into Laura's story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When you return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.
Told in a style that magnificently captures the colloquialisms of the 1930s and 1940s, The Blind Assassin is a richly layered and uniquely rewarding experience. The novel has many threads and a series of events that follow one another at a breathtaking pace. As everything comes together, you will discover that the story Atwood is telling is not only what it seems to be - but is, in fact, much more.
Cover Photograph: Courtesy of © The Advertising Archive, London; ©2000 by O.W. Toad, Ltd.; (P)Random House, Inc. Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio Publishing, A Division of Random House, Inc.
Book Sense Book of the Year Award Finalist, Adult Fiction, 2001
"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." (AudioFile)
The Blind Assassin is a beautifully written, interminably long and basically gloomy, frustrating history of a woman caught in a non-accommodating society. If you enjoy descriptions of antique society, women's clothing and buildings, you may enjoy most of the book - just not the plot.
This is really the story of Iris Chase, as told when she looks back at her life from the viewpoint of an octogenarian. Born into a life of privilege in the early 1900's, Iris and her younger sister Laura watch as their lives take turns for the worse because of changing family fortune and circumstances beyond their control in that era. Laura dies tragically at 25 in what appears to be a bizarre accident. This novel is not linear, but the shifts in time make the story all the more suspenseful, in my opinion. The novel has a number of layers: Iris's narration, newsclippings, and a second, largely separate narration: the story of how two unnamed lovers meet secretly, make love, and debate plot and characterization for a pulpy science fiction novel. One does have to listen through extended passages of this rather trashy science fiction novel. The listener needn't really bother to make sense of the sci fi. (I'm not sure it does fully make sense!) What is of interest in this parallel story is what the lovers say to each other about their lives and about the novel they are collaborating to write. This is what is key to the novel as a whole. To be honest, I would have given this five stars, except that I personally found the sci-fi passages a little tedious to get through. However, the rest of the novel was so original and thoroughly engrossing that I still give the novel an unqualified recommendation.
First of all this is one of the best matches of author and narrator that I've heard.Of all the good things about this book pehaps the best is Atwood's ability to extract all the fine things out of the English language. This is equalled by Margot Dionne's ability to speak each syllable with such passion that she wring's every nuance of meaning from it. Listening to this audio was like being a fly on the wall watching the characters evolve.
The story here is one of romance, lust, intrigue, deception, heartbreak, and family tragedy that is framed in 100 years of real life history.
There is nothing new in any of the subplots. It is the weaving of each of these told and told individual stories into a masterpiece that will keep you listening.
It is like someone taking mundane "been there - done that" food items and combining them into several new recipies, adding a table presentaion and serving a feast full of dishes that taste new even though you've eaten them all before.
By allowing the story to span such a timeline, Atwood has plenty of room for the characters to evolve into 3D people that you come to know quite well.
About 2/3 of the way through you begin to realize the final secret that will be revealed at the end. As it slowly dawns on you, you begin to think back and realize that it should have hit you sooner if only you'd paid more attention to detail. Everything was there to support the truth. Like a master illusionist Atwood misdirected us because she didn't want us to see it until she was ready.
The integration of the sci-fi story was a great tool to add to certain character's development as well as to provide some insight into what the characters do when they were "off-camera".
Overall one of the greatest fictional works in many years.
An unhurried, even languid, yet cogent and challenging exploration of age, youth, love, loss, cowardice, and social mores in the first half of the 20th century. A melodrama, a tragedy in the vein of Greek tragedy, Shakespearean tragedy and Dickensian tragedy. Not at all a Sci-Fi work. Presented in a complex modern style (which, of itself, is not necessarily groundbreaking), Atwood's perspicacious prose conveys truth less as through a true-color photograph than as through a "tinted" (colorized) black and white snapshot---the focus of the snapshot suffused with color, at times even florid or false color, while the background just enough tinted to convey context. Margot Dionne's crisp, clean narration is spectacular as the voice of Iris, one spent by life, love, and regret, as she completes this one last task: setting down the truth.
Good novel (4), Excellent narration (5), good audio quality (4) => overall good (4)
Gorgeous, captivating writing and an evocative troubling story. Not a love story but a woman's story. The protagonist is unsympathetic but each character is beautifully draw in depth. At times you will feel trapped at a bake sale with the most negative woman you've ever met; but at other times a few words, a sentence or a short paragraph will absolutely astonish you.
This is an exquisitely written, exquisitely narrated book. The language is like fine brandy, the story heady and intricate. I have never read Atwood so this was a first for me and i could not be more impressed. This is no simple tale, it is a story within a story within a story, yet the narrator did a fine job of keeping all the stories distinct. I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to be lulled into another world.
The story did not grab me, the language did. Not familiar with Margaret Atwood, I was swept away by her word choices, descriptions, perfect characterization. I found the plot hard to follow and did not feel the need to follow along in a print copy for clarity as with greater works (Crime & Punishment, Madame Bovary). The reading was sharp and done very well, but I did not finish it.
This is a truly magnificent work. The underlying story is not original. It is a rendition of the classic theme of ill-fated love. I do not offer this as criticism. Atwood's retelling, dressed in rich and graceful languange, deserves a place next to many great renditions that precede it- Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Roy's The God of Small Things, Nabakov's Ada or Ardor a Family Chronicle, Romeo and Juliet. I really enjoyed this book. The story is brilliantly told, and Atwood uses some unique literary devices to great effect. Sure, this is a love story, but it is so much more as well! Between the covers you will find powerful emotions of every shade. The interplay is poignant. Simply marvelous.
I loved this story, this has been my favorite book, and I now have it in all possible formats! However, the audio quality is pretty horrid. Tha narrator is fine, but the sound mixing is rough. I was able to get through, but the story is all that saves it.
Runs with scissors.
This was a terriffic story, within a story within a story. And the static and hiss in the background gave the narration (which was excellent) an eerie, haunting quality and created a richer setting for the mystery within. Reminisce of long ago radio drama, perfect for the reading of such a painful revelation, it created the perfect setting for the tale told by our "protagonist". Don't let the complainers scare you from this one, not as good as The Handmaid's Tale, but hey, few novels are anyway, and this one is full of amusing observational dialogue looking back on the mistakes made in an interesting life, as well as mystery and drama. Recommend!
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