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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius
I always felt that Margaret Atwood would never be able to beat 'Alias Grace' for sheer brilliance and inventiveness but that is exactly what she has done with this novel. 'The Blind Assassin' is a difficult book to read in the early stages but nevertheless compelling. We are thrown between past and present as carelessly as the protagonist, and fluctuate between feelings...
Published on 28 July 2001

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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Blind Assassin - a book worth persevering with
The Blind Assassin is a book that is definitely worth persevering with although it might be a disappointment to Margaret Atwood fans who are expecting another Robber Bride or Cat's Eye. Unlike these two books, it can't exactly be described as "page turner". The pace in the beginning is slow and the main characters come across as cold and are quite difficult to...
Published on 5 Feb. 2002


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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius, 28 July 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
I always felt that Margaret Atwood would never be able to beat 'Alias Grace' for sheer brilliance and inventiveness but that is exactly what she has done with this novel. 'The Blind Assassin' is a difficult book to read in the early stages but nevertheless compelling. We are thrown between past and present as carelessly as the protagonist, and fluctuate between feelings of sympathy and irritation throughout. I mentioned to a friend whilst I was a good way into the novel that it was great but not as good as 'Alias Grace' and that was how I felt until the last 50 pages - in those pages I witnessed the greatest ending in a book ever and one that had me weeping. Not only did the end of the book move me but I was also upset that I could not continue to read it. They say that the sign of a good book is that you don't want it to end and for possibly only the third time in my life I could so empathise with that cliche. This book has to be read of that there is no doubt!
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Blind Assassin - a book worth persevering with, 5 Feb. 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
The Blind Assassin is a book that is definitely worth persevering with although it might be a disappointment to Margaret Atwood fans who are expecting another Robber Bride or Cat's Eye. Unlike these two books, it can't exactly be described as "page turner". The pace in the beginning is slow and the main characters come across as cold and are quite difficult to relate to. The more you read however, the more compelling the characters and plot become and the ending will really keep you guessing. I wanted to give up on this book after a few pages but was glad I persevered to the end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wordplay and humour good enough to sustain interest in what is sometimes a laborious read, 2 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
The Blind Assassin is a mystery and a tragedy. The tragedy lies in the very fact that it is a mystery at all - a mystery to Iris Chase, the narrator, and a mystery to we, the reader, complicit in Iris's crime by realising the tragedy too late. Swept along by rhetoric and reminiscence, we overlook human failings until the failure has exacted its bitter toll, so that in the end all that Iris is capable of is writing, and all that we can do is read.

So what is it like to read Atwood's tenth (and Booker-Prize-winning) novel? The first quarter of the book establishes the framework of the storytelling: one part that consists of news articles and chapters from a posthumously-published work of dubious authorship detailing the lives of a pair of doomed lovers, followed by a part in which Iris, now an old woman, reflects on the events leading up to the suicide of her sister Laura. As such, it jumps around a lot - through narrative devices and through time - and doesn't really settle down until close to the 200-page mark. It's a challenging opening segment, but once we're acquainted with the backdrop to the Chase family saga we begin to peer into the early lives of the Chase sisters - by far the most engaging parts of the book.

The dominant period covered by Iris's memoirs are the years following her arranged marriage to the wealthy industrialist Richard Griffen sometime in the mid-1930s. Griffen, together with his sister Winifred, plays the villain of the piece, but he's a figure never fully articulated by Iris - as she herself admits: " I've failed to convey Richard, in any rounded sense. He remains a cardboard cutout. I know that. I can't truly describe him, I can't get a precise focus: he's blurred, like the face in some wet, discarded newspaper." Laura blames Richard for the death of her bankrupted father, whose body she finds whilst Iris is off honeymooning. Richard takes it upon himself to bring Laura under his care, and from there things only get worse.

It's no easy plot to summarise in a few lines, and the split-narrative device complicates things further. But that device is rewarding in the end, even if it's sometimes too clever for its own good, and certainly too clever to render the sorrow of Laura's brief existence as anything other than an observed phenomenon, not an experiential one. That's the problem here - Atwood's work has always seemed like a beautiful puzzle to me, ornamented with the detritus of the genre or period from which she draws, but which conveys its emotion through a prism of clever wording. It's something to admire, to learn from, but my enjoyment as a reader stems from my appreciation of her craft, not from the impact of her storytelling.

Despite this, The Blind Assassin tells a convincing story with the poetic and often witty language you'd expect from Atwood. It also offers a damning verdict on its narrator's complicity in her sister's death. When given the opportunity to assist in her father's business she is disinterested and incompetent, but unwilling to consider other forms of employment; when presented with an arranged marriage she is meekly compliant; whilst engaged in an affair she is self-pitying but savours the risks and pleasures; and when a grotesque crime is being committed right before her eyes she is oblivious to the point of guilt. Iris is married off to Richard as part of her father's last-ditch attempt to save his business, but it's an act that need not have occurred at all if she'd shown the same willingness to make her own way in life as Laura had. She claims to despise her marriage to her father's former business rival but delights in the sartorial benefits granted by his wealth, just as her repeated claims about fear of exposure to Alex are suspect when, in fact, she's receiving gifts of one kind from her husband and of another kind from her lover. Meanwhile, Richard subdues Laura by claiming to know Alex's whereabouts - a lie, apparently, but one that works and convinces Laura that her suffering is for a purpose.

Is any of what ultimately transpires Iris's fault for not reading the situation more clearly? If so, then we're also complicit in the crime by not reading the signs she missed before it was too late, and it is a credit to Atwood that she keeps them so well-hidden. Perhaps the question isn't even worth asking when the victim is beyond saving, but does that mean Iris is beyond saving too? She writes it all down before it's too late for her - her heart is failing - to get at a truth that came too late for Laura, but what for? When she admits the book attributed to Laura was in fact written by her it's explained as an act of revenge disguised as a memorial, so where does that leave the subsequent material now that everyone is either dead or absent? Iris's newspaper obituary hints that perhaps what we ultimately hold in our hands is a tome compiled by her granddaughter, and that act of compiling suggests some sort of reconciliation after the fact.

Stories, remembrance, redemption, betrayal - all told against a backdrop of early-twentieth-century history. Atwood has a penchant for profound one-liners too, passed off like afterthoughts: "We need the mammalian huddle: too much solitude is bad for the eyesight", or: "They'd learned a genial contempt for their father, who couldn't read Latin, not even badly, as they did" are typical of her wordplay and humour, and they sustain interest in what is sometimes a laborious read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading - highly recommended, 8 Aug. 2004
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
The plot is quite straightforward : an old and dying Iris Chase is remembering her life and especially the life of her sister who committed suicide at the age of 25. However the story is more complicated than that as in fact there are several stories wound into one and of course there are secrets and lies surrounding the lives of the two sisters. It is a complex, brilliantly written book, a little hard to get into perhaps but don't give up, you could find it hard going at first but it's worth it! A really gripping read. Atwood fans won't be disappointed and if you are new to Atwood, don't worry you will get into the story and it's normal to re-read certain pages, she's so amazingly complex (in a good way) that you have to concentrate to make sure you don't miss anything crucial! Once you've read her, you'll be hooked. I also recommend Alias Grace, which is brilliant too! It also took a while to get into, as Atwood sets the scene with painstaking detail, but it's worth it and had me thinking about the main character long after I'd finished the book ...
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Margaret Atwood at her best, 4 Dec. 2001
By 
R. Simpson (South Kirkby, Yorks, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
It's a relief to find the Booker Award is not just some kind of retrospective justice for the failure to reward The Handmaid's Tale - and an even greater relief to find that the multiple narrative format of the novel is neither confusing (after the first dozen pages) nor pretentious. The extracts from newspapers and magazines which chart the public life of the Chases and Griffens provide a grounding in fact as well as a wickedly amusing satire on snobbery and provincialism. 'The Blind Assassin' itself, the novel that created Laura Chase's posthumous reputation, operates on twin levels of realism and fantasy and equally the main narrative in the person of her sister Iris unites past and present (1999). Atwood manages throughout to maintain a subtle and convincing mix of sympathy for, and detachment from, her characters, allowing irony to flourish alongside involvement. The reader is even flattered by the creation of mysteries which he/she is lured into solving before they are officially unveiled: 'But you must have known that for some time', Atwood writes disarmingly after uncovering the central deception. Of course we did: aren't we clever? Not quite as clever as Ms Atwood, though.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'one of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive', 6 May 2012
By 
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
Absolutely outstanding and brilliantly written novel. Four strands of writing are interspersed: the present day narrative from elderly Iris Chase, a widow struggling with getting old. Then Iris delves back in time, recalling her privileged childhood, then the Depression, her marriage and throughout it all her sister Laura (whose suicide aged 25 opens the novel). Then there's documentary evidence- newspaper reports on the deaths, marriages, society parties and business concerns of the Chase family.
And intermingled is the novel 'the Blind Assassin' for which Laura received so much posthumous credit. It tells of a wealthy young woman and her secret assignations. The young man is poor and wanted for revolutionary activities; he makes a living writing for sci-fi mags and entertains his lover with an ongoing story of an imaginary land and a blind assassin...
There's a huge denouement at the end and the writing is superb. Atwood is totally convincing whether writing as an old woman or a young love-struck teenager.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic, first class book, 11 Mar. 2010
By 
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
(*spoilers) This was my first foray into Margaret Atwood's work and what a great book to start with!

This is an intelligent, well plotted book that effortlessly charts the lives of two young women, Iris, and her infamous sister Laura Chase, living in upper-class Canada in the 1930s and 40s.

It deals with the way that their lives are shaped, mainly by other people (their father marrying off Iris, her husband and his sister and their ruthless determination, Iris' haunting family legacy) and the ongoing outcomes and tragedies that unfold as a result of greed, power and perversion of others around them.

I thought that this was a completely compelling and believable book. I found myself absorbed by what Iris had to say, was highly amused and convinced about her commentaries about getting older and its affects (I loved the section where she has the present the Laura Chase Memorial Prize and how she describes Winifred's stinginess).

For me this is a book that neatly describes how people's entire lives can be formed and destined by circumstances that are beyond their control. It is a novel of tragedy but not in a demoralising way; as stated, I thought Iris' social commentary to be very entertaining and funny.

The book also primarily deal with Iris' attempts to atone (or at least set the record straight) in relation to what happened to her sister. Ultimately I felt sad for Iris; to me, most of the tragedies that occurred had little to do with her, and I doubt there would have been much more she could have done to foresee or stop them from occurring.

The only aspect of the book I wasn't too keen on was the science fiction stories, but that is more a matter of taste as I am not a fan, and sci-fi is not really Ms Atwood's genre anyway.

People have described this book as being pretentious; I couldn't agree less... I found it to be absorbing and a bit of a page-turner but in an intelligent and absorbing way. I think it is a deserved winner of the Booker Prize. Highly recommended (and really 4.5 stars).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read, 6 Jan. 2009
By 
Louisa Buckmaster (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
The blind assassin is a compelling read, leaving you gripped to practically every word. Atwood has the innate ability to keep her readers in suspense and yet still keep the momentum of the story going. Iris Griffen the focal character writes in intimate detail the background and history of her once prestigious family and its unfortunate demise. By doing so, Iris dragged up in her endeavour the mystery and clandestine past that had surrounded a death in her family, a death which had followed her for the majority of her adult life. This novel is not only thrilling and intriguing but utterly believable. Margaret Atwood truly grasps human emotion; her empathic nature completely makes the protagonist both credible and authentic, she is able to express the views of both the young and the elderly to exact precision. Atwood keeps the mystique of the story by the juxtaposition of the different points of view throughout the tale and the different time frames. It is clear a great deal of research has been put into the completion of the book, her understanding of social history throughout both the 19th and 20th centuries is quite clear which just makes the story even more realistic. However, following the text can become perplexing at times with the lack of quotation marks, as you can lose track of where a conversation is going or who said what within the discussion, another problem that occurs when reading the novel is that you are not always immediately sure, from whose point of view you are reading but it does soon become clear and when you manage to come to terms with these minor obstacles I'm sure that most people will find it, as I did, a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dazzling,haunting novel of hidden love and family secrets., 7 Oct. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Hardcover)
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood is a difficult book to catergorize. It works on a dizzying number of levels: A historical novel, depicting an industrial and social milieu in early twentieth century Canada; a complex and shadowy love story; as a study of the symbolism of science fiction, or as a story of women and men and the secrets that bind them. It is the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura, who grow up in provincial Canada, daughters of a wealthy man who runs a button-making factory. The novel opens with a description of Laura's apparent suicide after the Second World War, and then Iris takes over as narrator, trying to understand and unravel the threads of Laura's life and her own. The Blind Assassin is the name of the novel that Laura leaves behind. Published posthumously, it becomes a controversial cult classic in the manner of Plath's writings, lauded as a proto-feminist classic. Iris is the reluctant keeper of her sister's troublesome flame. Woven around this intriguing structure is a dazzling array of characters: anarchists, bitter society women, strikers, husbands, housekeepers and lovers.
Atwood has always had an erudite, sexy and witty way with language and this new novel is no exception. The Blind Assassin, the novel within the novel, consists of an un-named man relating weird and distrurbing science fiction to an equally anonymous upper class woman. Atwood lets rip with her rich and persuasive use of language, conjuring up cities of strange creatures, sacrifical virgins, blind assassins, women who roam the mountains, devouring men, mythologies and exotic religions. The erotic relationship between the two nameless protaganists is consumated in a series of seedy hotel and rooms, furtive and forbidden. Paranoia and fear of discovery follow them everywhere. It seems a strange choice of themes and styles that Atwood has chosen to combine, but the unsettling ideas that bubble through both sides of the story are haunting and stay with you long after putting the book down. You see things coming and then they vanish and you have to re-read passages and re-think your reactions. It shimmers in front of you, glinting off the page. Ultimately it is a deeply moving novel, whose charaters come vividly to life. I found myself crying softly as I finished it, touched by the beauty and pain in the lives of the characters and also by my own yearning for something I can't quite explain. But if you read this extraordinary novel you will perhaps understand what I mean.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blind Assassination, Atwood hits her target with so much style she may as well be blind, 22 July 2006
By 
S. Howard "Wuthering Heights RULES!!" (Liverpool, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Blind Assassin (Paperback)
This is the third Atwood novel ive read, unlike her other works, i feel the blind assassin stands alone, seperatly. Her flowing poetic style remains as always bang on the mark, and the novel reads effortlessly, the structure is complex, and devides clearly into two seperate (or seemingly seperate) plots; the account of Iris Chase's life, and her sisters novel: The Blind Assassin. The two are linked soley by Laura Chase, Iris's sister. The subject of society and desire, are explored in this novel.

The novel opens with a simple idea, Iris's sister Laura killed herself by driving off a bridge, just after the end of WW2. And in wake of her death, her only novel "The Blind Assassin" is published to huge critical acclaim. Iris remembers this, and the events leading up to the climax of the Blind Assassin. Atwood explores the nature of Canada's high society, and the importence of doing your duty in life through Iris's eyes, and meanwhile greatly challenges this in the interwoven novel in a novel: laura's Novel - The Blind Assassin. The split view on life is seen through Atwoods juxtapositioning of Iris's story and Laura's story.

As events conspire the old saying "art immitates life" is clearly seen, the power of suggestion plays as a vital suspence device, i found myself asking "that association cannot be right". Atwood shows that sometimes in life what we dont say can be screamingly obvious, and more important than what we do say. The absolute plot twist is expected through what is implied but not said within both streams of the novel, this doesnt make it any less shocking. Within the novel it shows how what we dont say can ruin lives, perhaps even more than the things we do say. Atwoods powers of suggestion and manipulation of emotion are flawless, her depth is inspiring, her style compulsive.

I would greatly advise you to read on, and be engulfed in Atwoods exception writing. a first rate novel, with an unlikely plot, well not what i expected. But still a brilliant and enjoyable read. Atwood is serious literature and is destined to become a classic author. So read this book and become immersed in Atwoods world, go on, the secrets of Iris are to tantalising to resist.
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