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Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Blind Assassin in Winter


Probably the best thing that could happen right now is that it could snow, but since it doesn’t seem likely to with the temperature hovering at around 50 degrees, I can at least enjoy all the lovely new books I’ve gotten, and hopefully catch up on some reading over winter break.

I’ve only read maybe 3 books this month. This is not okay.

One of the three which I just finished was The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. Now, I haven’t read anything else by her, so I don’t know if this was typical or anything, but I really enjoyed this book. It was enthralling and intelligently plotted and minutely researched. I’ve been looking for a book to sink my teeth into for a while now, and, finally, I found it in The Blind Assassin.

The novel is composed of three alternating stories. First, the first-person account of the day-to-day life of Iris Chase Griffen, who seems overshadowed and pushed-aside by two people long dead: her industrialist husband, Richard, and her famous author sister, Laura. Second is the story of Iris’s childhood and her eventual arranged marriage to Richard, a man nearly twenty years her senior. The third tale is composed of excerpts from Laura’s novel, also titled The Blind Assassin.

As the book continues, startling connections between the three tales start to appear, and in the end, we are left with mysteries as well as answers.

At first I though the book was going to be a bit dry, but soon I realized that it was definitely the opposite. Clever and beautifully written as well as incredibly engrossing, it definitely made me want to read more of Atwood. There were a few things I thought were a bit off-putting however, mainly in regards to the characters. First was the character Iris. Though I certainly felt bad for her at times (especially when she described her marriage to the vile Richard), she also seemed oddly cold and distant. Her tone, especially when describing her modern-day life, was almost relentlessly cynical and depressed. She comes across as a woman who couldn’t find a silver lining if her life depended on it. Maybe it’s because I’m only sixteen, so I obviously don’t know what’s it’s like to be elderly, or seen the world change so markedly as she has. But I find it incredibly annoying when it seems that the only way elderly characters in books know how to discuss the world is by bemoaning all the ills that younger generations have caused. Iris attacks nearly every vestige of modern life, and frankly, it gets tiring. Laura, on the other hand, comes across as too dreamy and odd to really register the world around her. Alex Thomas, the young man suspected of being a Communist who Iris and Laura hide in their attic at one time during the novel is too blunt and underdeveloped as a character to be truly compelling or appealing. Virtually all the characters in The Blind Assassin fell a bit flat for me.

Don’t take this to mean that the book wasn’t fully enjoyable as a whole. I can generally ignore unappealing characters as long as everything else is top-notch, and in this one, everything else really was. If only Atwood had made her characters different, it would have all been perfect. But c’est la vie.

On a side note: I read the first book in the Poseur series by Rachel Maude just after that. It was good too, but talk about contrast.

Have a good winter break, and fingers crossed that it starts snowing!

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