Saturday, April 3, 2010

Matthew's Review - The Blind Assassin - 2000

The only Margaret Atwood I had ever read was for university, and I hadn't been terribly impressed. When I saw Atwood's name on the Booker list I had trepidations. However, The Blind Assassin defied my expectations in a great way.

The Blind Assassin is comprised of two alternating stories. The first is the recollections and memories of Iris Chase, whose sister, Laura, mysteriously died in an automobile accident and left behind a manuscript which Iris then published posthumously. The manuscript, "The Blind Assassin", being the second story. Iris' story charts her and her sister's early childhood, adolescence, and eventually, Iris' unhappy marriage to a wealthy industrialist in Canada between the two Wars.

The fictional story is nested within another story. "The Blind Assassin" in the novel is a roman à clef based on a man named Alex Thomas whom the sisters have an uneasy and mysterious relationship. In the story, the fictional version of Alex, tells a fantastic science fiction tale to the fictional version of Laura.

This is certainly a postmodern novel, made up stories about stories. It's also a tremendous and successful work, with the alternating voices are written in two different, beautiful voices with gorgeous and supple prose. The plot strand set in reality is a long social history and social development of the two girls set between the Wars, and of Canada's adolescence as a country. Conversely, the story-within-the-story is never boring and nested with symbols and images that reflect and echo all the way to the "top" story. The execution of this trick is absolutely masterful.

Luckily, Atwood isn't interested in postmodern trickery for the sake of it. Everything has been put in its place for a specific reason, and the payoff at the end is amazing. Without going into spoilers, the end of the novel ties the two stories together in an interesting and unexpected way, and the story nested within the fictional book pays off as well.

All the symbols come together to contribute to Atwood's overarching themes of her oeuvre, of the power of the written word, of the gender roles assigned by society, and the power to rewrite history.

Atwood's The Blind Assassin is a wonderful novel, one that I would surely consider one of the best Canadian novels ever written. The prose is pure poetry, the stories epic and engaging, the characters very real, and the structure intricate. I would wholeheartedly recommend this novel as one of the best of the Booker, and I would recommend this to anybody interested in fine literature.

If interested, there are more Booker reviews by Matthew at this link which goes to my blog a lay of the land. Thanks for reading.


  1. I didn't want this novel to end, for the reasons you mention. Good stuff!

  2. Great review, Matthew. Thanks!

  3. In my head, I kept coming back to this novel as being almost-perfect. The more time goes by, the more I think that this novel is an absolute masterpiece, worthy of standing next to the greatest works of all time. I know that this is almost hysterical praise, so soonish I will re-read the novel and see if it holds up.