Adventure-ing: Atwood, The Blind Assassin

I just finished The Blind Assassin on my trek to read all of Atwood’s massive body of work. And I have to admit, this was a hard one. It started a bit slow (but, Lauren, how can you call a suicide slow?) and it seemed so long, but then again that may have been the fact that my life as been a bit … wackadoo lately. Reading this was like broccoli, sometimes I had to gag it down, and then others I munched away not even trying. But I think that’s all part of this journey I’m on with this project. I’m incredibly fascinating with the relationship that will appear through all of this. Reading Atwood through various stations of her life, through various genres, through space and time. She has taught me so much about my own writing and acts as a true example of a sustainable and diverse writing career.

The Blind Assassin is a story within a story within a story. The main character is retelling her life through a memoir she is actively writing in the present moment. So there is the present moment story and the back story. Then, there is the story that the main character’s sister (who commits suicide in the first chapter) wrote, and within THAT story is a character who is dictating a sci-fi story.  And somehow, SOMEHOW Ms. Atwood makes it all work, seamlessly. I am never lost, and each story is completely rich and enticing. My only complaint is it’s a lot to chew, and I’m feeling a tad bit overwhelmed in life for a book that demands an emotional investment.

But! On to the awesome parts, the oh-so-Atwood parts:

My bones have been aching again, as they often do in humid weather. They ache like history: things long done with, that still reverberate as pain. When the ache is bad enough it keeps me from sleeping. Every night I yearn for sleep, I strive for it; yet it flutters on ahead of me like a sooty curtain. There are sleeping pills, of course, but the doctor has warned me against them. (Part III, Avilion, Pg. 56)

Walter appeared, Walter shovelled. He’d brought a paper sack of doughnut holes; we ate them at the kitchen table, me cautiously, Walter wholesale, but contemplatively. He’s a man for whom chewing is a form of thinking. (Part VII, The Eggshell Hat, Pg. 310)

A paradox, the doughnut hole. Empty space, once, but now they’ve learned to market even that. A minus quantity; nothing, rendered edible. I wondered if they might be used – metaphorically, of course – to demonstrate the existence of God. Does naming a sphere of nothingness transmute it into being? (Part VII, The Eggshell Hat, Pg. 310)

Like I said, this novel was vegetables, the good kind, the kind that you pat yourself on the back for after eating, the kind that give you shiny hair and manageable cuticles. It actually inspired a story in me, a story you may very well be reading sometime soon.

Good books work your imagination beyond the page, they change the way you view your life, they bring things to the surface you would have never paid attention to before. This book is not a beach read, but it isn’t difficult either. If you’re looking for something to chew on, to remind you of your grandma, to make you long to be born in the 1920s, to suddenly lose hours to, this is it. Read it and then email me and tell me what you thought.

17 thoughts on “Adventure-ing: Atwood, The Blind Assassin”

      1. Cat’s Eye is my FAVORITEST. I have a 1st edition signed copy Kamel got me for christmas.

        Moral Disorder is also really good. I highly recommend. It’s a different set up – a series of short peices that are all connected. So good.

  1. This book has been sitting on my bedside table for almost three years! I was gifted it by a friend whose taste in writing I admire, and another friend who is a fiendish reader adores Margaret, but… I can’t. get. into. it.

    After reading this, I’ll give it another try tonight. 🙂

    1. Ha! I started reading this over christmas, and look how long it took me! Ridiculous! I felt rather ashamed by it all. Once you get into it, it’s great. It really has been my biggest challenge so far with Atwood, which isn’t even THAT big of a challenge (I have bigger issues with Franzen). Usually she is really great at the bait and hook straight from the beginning, but not so on this one. Finish it so we can talk about it!! I need a buddy. 🙂

      1. Hmm, I liked the Blind Assassin much more than some of her other books. I felt like this one (for me) was more of a true narrative driven story, as opposed to driven by a morality tale, or an “idea” that she needs to express but can be kind of awkwardly shoe-horned in to how her characters behave and talk, if that makes any sense?
        The only disappointment I had was not being able to finish the science fiction bit of the story – I wanted to know how it ended for the assassin!

  2. I really need to read this; your reaction to it sounds like my reaction to a lot of her work- so, so big, but also deep and beautiful. Every one of her books reminds me of swimming in the way they hold me, not entirely safe or effortless, but certainly weightless. I have a copy of it (a signed copy! that I found for $0.25 at my library’s book barn!), so I’ll try to pick it up once I finish For Better. And then I’ll email you about it.

    (I’ll also email you tonight about your very nice, very quick response to mine last week. I am an email slacker.)

  3. I have mixed feelings about Atwood, having had to read loads of her poetry first in high school (didn’t love) and then getting to Handmaid’s Tale (which I loved). I have since tried to read/ have read some of her other books including this but I couldn’t get into this one. Perhaps I will try again this summer once I get back to my parent’s house where the book currently lives.
    My favorite writer has got to be Edith Wharton and I have read nearly her whole body of work, which is unfortunately, rather small. Have you read much/any of her?

    1. If you have mixed feeling about atwood, do not attempt The Blind Assasin. I am totally obsessed and even I found it difficult to choke down. I would suggest Cat’s Eye. It’s one of my favorites and I think you would really enjoy it. If you do end up reading it, let me know what you think! I suggest it to lots of people, but never hear back. haha. I don’t know if that’s a good sign. 😉

      And now! I haven’t read any of Edith. As a first timer, what would you suggest?

      1. I have read Penelopiad and liked it well enough but guess Blind Assassin was not my thing.

        In terms of Edith I would suggest starting with either the Age of Innocence or the House of Mirth, though if I can remember right the latter is much darker. The only book which I haven’t liked of hers is Ethan Frome – but it is very different from most of her other work. Let me know if you read any of her work I always try to make people read her books so I can discuss, her writing makes me swoon!

  4. Cat’s Eye is up next on my list (probably starting it tonight or tomorrow morning) … and I promise to report back. =)

    That being said … books that take me a while to get into generally get set aside. My mother gave me one 3 years ago that I still have not finished. So, color me impressed at your accomplishment. =)

  5. Argh! Favourite book ever! And from my favourite author, that’s saying something…

    But I’m curious you found it difficult going, especially compared to one like Cats Eye? For me, the Blind Assassin was one of her most narrative-driven works – a complex narrative, given all the intertwining voices (hard to describe without giving away the secret!), but very much a gripping tale nonetheless. Others amongst her more idea-heavy books have been harder, to my mind at least.

    But then I must admit I’ve devoured every singlebbook by her, so I’m prolly not a fair judge. Have you got to Lady Oracle yet? It has many of the same themes and motifs that arise in The BA and Cats Eye (and to a lesser extent in The Robber Bride), but so quick! So FUNNY!

    I just love Atwood. Whenever I hear something like “oh, but she really only writes for women”, I want to scream. She writes for HUMANS, with such extraordinary clarity of vision for FEMALE humans – saying she writes for women is like saying Hemmingway or Joyce or Dostoevsky only wrote for men…it might be they captured that part of the human condition best, but in the end, wouldn’t we all benefit from them having done so?

    [End rant]

  6. Did I tell you that Margaret Atwood was just in Ithaca? I went to hear her talk, of course. At the end, every person who asked her a question started off with something like, “I love you” or “Your work has meant so much to me” or “I’m so honored to be able to speak to you.” And Margaret Atwood just waited patiently for her adoring fan to get around to actually asking something. It was great. She’s also quite funny and witty and said some great things I meant to write up in a blog post, but never did.

  7. By the end of the book, I enjoyed Blind Assassin more than I thought I would. I’ve read a fair number of her books, and while it’s not my favorite, it was sort of a creeper. It grew on me.

    Atwood is such a charming woman. I met her when she did a performance/reading of Year of the Flood in Chicago. I wish she was my buddy. I have a feeling she’d be game for most adventures. 🙂

  8. I juuuuust finished this book and I really wish that her editor would have stopped her from using the word lurid so much… I noticed it at least five times… (my only complaint)

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