Cover image for The blind assassin
Title:
The blind assassin
Author:
Atwood, Margaret, 1939-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition in the U.S.A.
Publication Information:
New York : N.A. Talese, 2000.
Physical Description:
xiii, 521 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.8 30.0 44870.
ISBN:
9780385475723

9780965034906
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Margaret Atwood takes the art of storytelling to new heights in a dazzling new novel that unfolds layer by astonishing layer and concludes in a brilliant and wonderfully satisfying twist.

For the past twenty-five years, Margaret Atwood has written works of striking originality and imagination. In The Blind Assassin , she stretches the limits of her accomplishments as never before, creating a novel that is entertaining and profoundly serious.

The novel opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister Laura's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects 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 we 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 and clichés 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, readers will discover that the story Atwood is telling is not only what it seems to be--but, in fact, much more.

The Blind Assassin proves once again that Atwood is one of the most talented, daring, and exciting writers of our time. Like The Handmaid's Tale , it is destined to become a classic.


Author Notes

Margaret Atwood was born on November 18, 1939 in Ottawa, Canada. She received a B.A. from Victoria College, University of Toronto in 1961 and an M.A. from Radcliff College in 1962.

Her first book of verse, Double Persephone, was published in 1961 and was awarded the E. J. Pratt Medal. She has published numerous books of poetry, novels, story collections, critical work, juvenile work, and radio and teleplays. Her works include The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Power Politics, Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, Morning in the Buried House, the MaddAdam trilogy, and The Heart Goes Last. She has won numerous awards including the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, the Booker Prize in 2000 for The Blind Assassin, the Giller Prize and the Premio Mondello for Alias Grace, and the Governor General's Award in 1966 for The Circle Game and in 1986 for The Handmaid's Tale, which also won the very first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. She won the PEN Pinter prize in 2016 for her political activism. She was awarded the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize for the outstanding literary merit of her body of work.

(Bowker Author Biography) Margaret Atwood is the author of more than twenty-five books, including fiction, poetry, and essays. Among her recent works are the bestselling novels, Alias Grace and The Robber Bride, and the short-story collections, Good Bones and Simple Murders and Wilderness Tips. Atwood lives in Toronto, Canada.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Stories spin within stories in this spellbinding novel of avarice, love, and revenge. It begins in Toronto in 1945 when Laura Chase, 25 years old, drives a car off a bridge. Iris Chase Griffen, her older sister and wife of a wealthy and conniving businessman, seems more concerned with the proper attire for her trip to the reporter-ringed morgue than with her sister's fate, but readers should never underestimate an Atwood heroine's capacity for self-discipline and subterfuge. Iris has had to perfect the art of self-abnegation ever since her mother's death, when her father, a compassionate manufacturer, asked her to look after Laura. Sheltered and naive, the girls were ripe pickings for Richard, to whom their father handed over his business and family property, including 18-year-old Iris, and Alex Thomas, a labor activist implicated in arson and murder, who may or may not be Laura's lover. Atwood, whose wit, metaphorical descriptions, and elegant characterizations are breathtaking in their beauty and resonance, weaves an intriguing trifurcate narrative. Newspaper articles document Canada's Red scare, the political and industrial jockeying for war profits, and high-society goings-on. Iris' wry memoir, which she is writing in the present at the end of her difficult life, reveals at long last the wrenching truth about herself and Laura amid hilariously acerbic commentary on the inanities of contemporary life. And then there are the most mysterious sections, chapters from Laura's posthumously published novel, The Blind Assassin, an erotic and poignant story of illicit love between a socialite and a radical fugitive, who charms his lover with fantastic stories about the planet Zycron, where a blind assassin falls in love with a mute sacrificial virgin. Aptly enough, figurative forms of blindness and silence are both bane and antidote in the thwarted lives Atwood conjures so masterfully. --Donna Seaman


Publisher's Weekly Review

Family secrets, sibling rivalry, political chicanery and social unrest, promises and betrayals, "loss and regret and memory and yearning" are the themes of Atwood's brilliant new novel, whose subtitle might read: The Fall of the House of Chase. Justly praised for her ability to suggest the complexity of individual lives against the backdrop of Canadian history, Atwood here plays out a spellbinding family saga intimately affected by WWI, the Depression and Communist witch-hunts, but the final tragedy is equally the result of human frailty, greed and passion. Octogenarian narrator Iris Chase Griffen is moribund from a heart ailment as she reflects on the events following the suicide in 1945 of her fey, unworldly 25-year-old sister, Laura, and of the posthumous publication of Laura's novel, called "The Blind Assassin." Iris's voiceDacerbic, irreverent, witty and cynicalDis mesmerizingly immediate. When her narration gives way to conversations between two people collaborating on a science fiction novel, we assume that we are reading the genesis of Laura's tale. The voices are those of an unidentified young woman from a wealthy family and her lover, a hack writer and socialist agitator on the run from the law; the lurid fantasy they concoct between bouts of lovemaking constitutes a novel-within-a-novel. Issues of sexual obsession, political tyranny, social justice and class disparity are addressed within the potboiler SF, which features gruesome sacrifices, mutilated body parts and corrupt, barbaric leaders. Despite subtle clues, the reader is more than halfway through Atwood's tour de force before it becomes clear that things are not what they seem. Meanwhile, flashbacks illuminate the Chase family history. In addition to being psychically burdened at age nine by her mother's deathbed adjuration to take care of her younger sibling, nave Iris at age 18 is literally sold into marriage to a ruthless 35-year-old industrialist by her father, a woolly-minded idealist who thinks more about saving the family name and protecting the workers in his button factories than his daughter's happiness. Atwood's pungent social commentary rings chords on the ways women are used by men, and how the power that wealth confers can be used as a deadly weapon. Her microscopic observation transforms details into arresting metaphors, often infused with wry, pithy humor. As she adroitly juggles three plot lines, Atwood's inventiveness achieves a tensile energy. The alternating stories never slacken the pace; on the contrary, one reads each segment breathlessly, eager to get back to the other. In sheer storytelling bravado, Atwood here surpasses even The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. BOMC main selection; author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Atwood does not mess around in her riveting new tale: by the end of the first sentence, we know that the narrator's sister is dead, and after just 18 pages we learn that the narrator's husband died on a boat, that her daughter died in a fall, and that her dead husband's sister raised her granddaughter. Dying octogenarian Iris Chasen's narration of the past carefully unravels a haunting story of tragedy, corruption, and cruel manipulation. Iris and her younger sister, Laura, are born into the privileged Canadian world of Port Ticonderoga in the early part of the 20th century. At 18, Iris is the marital pawn in a business deal between her financially desperate father and the ruthless, much-older industrialist Richard Griffen. When the father dies, the rebellious Laura is forced to move into Richard's controlling household, accelerating the tangled mess of relentless tragedy. At this point, Atwood brilliantly overlays a second story, an sf novel-within-a-novel, credited to Laura Chasen, that features nameless lovers trysting in squalor. Some readers may figure out Atwood's wrap-up before book's end. Worry notDnothing will dampen the pleasure of getting there. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]DBeth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Bridge Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens. I was informed of the accident by a policeman: the car was mine, and they'd traced the licence. His tone was respectful: no doubt he recognized Richard's name. He said the tires may have caught on a streetcar track or the brakes may have failed, but he also felt bound to inform me that two witnesses - a retired lawyer and a bank teller, dependable people - had claimed to have seen the whole thing. They'd said Laura had turned the car sharply and deliberately, and had plunged off the bridge with no more fuss than stepping off a curb. They'd noticed her hands on the wheel because of the white gloves she'd been wearing.         It wasn't the brakes, I thought. She had her reasons. Not that they were ever the same as anybody else's reasons. She was completely ruthless in that way. "I suppose you want someone to identify her," I said. "I'll come down as soon as I can." I could hear the calmness of my own voice, as if from a distance. In reality I could barely get the words out; my mouth was numb, my entire face was rigid with pain. I felt as if I'd been to the dentist. I was furious with Laura for what she'd done, but also with the policeman for implying that she'd done it. A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water. "I'm afraid there will be an inquest, Mrs. Griffen," he said. "Naturally," I said. "But it was an accident. My sister was never a good driver." I could picture the smooth oval of Laura's face, her neatly pinned chignon, the dress she would have been wearing: a shirtwaist with a small rounded collar, in a sober colour - navy blue or steel grey or hospital-corridor green. Penitential colours - less like something she'd chosen to put on than like something she'd been locked up in. Her solemn half-smile; the amazed lift of her eyebrows, as if she were admiring the view. The white gloves: a Pontius Pilate gesture. She was washing her hands of me. Of all of us.  What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain. Or of the stack of cheap school exercise books that she must have hidden that very morning, in the bureau drawer where I kept my stockings, knowing I would be the one to Wnd them. When the policeman had gone I went upstairs to change. To visit the morgue I would need gloves, and a hat with a veil. Something to cover the eyes. There might be reporters. I would have to call a taxi. Also I ought to warn Richard, at his office: he would wish to have a statement of grief prepared. I went into my dressing room: I would need black, and a handkerchief. I opened the drawer, I saw the notebooks. I undid the crisscross of kitchen string that tied them together. I noticed that my teeth were chattering, and that I was cold all over. I must be in shock, I decided. What I remembered then was Reenie, from when we were little. It was Reenie who'd done the bandaging, of scrapes and cuts and minor injuries: Mother might be resting, or doing good deeds elsewhere, but Reenie was always there. She'd scoop us up and sit us on the white enamel kitchen table, alongside the pie dough she was rolling out or the chicken she was cutting up or the fish she was gutting, and give us a lump of brown sugar to get us to close our mouths. Tell me where it hurts, she'd say. Stop howling. Just calm down and show me where. But some people can't tell where it hurts. They can't calm down. They can't ever stop howling. The Toronto Star, May 26, 1945 Questions Raised at the Death Special to the Star A coroner's inquest has returned a verdict of accidental death in last week's St. Clair Ave. fatality. Miss Laura Chase, 25, was travelling west on the afternoon of May 18 when her car swerved through the barriers protecting a repair site on the bridge and crashed into the ravine below, catching Wre. Miss Chase was killed instantly. Her sister, Mrs. Richard E. GriVen, wife of the prominent manufacturer, gave evidence that Miss Chase suVered from severe headaches affecting her vision. In reply to questioning, she denied any possibility of intoxication as Miss Chase did not drink. It was the police view that a tire caught in an exposed streetcar track was a contributing factor. Questions were raised as to the adequacy of safety precautions taken by the City, but after expert testimony by City engineer Gordon Perkins these were dismissed. The accident has occasioned renewed protests over the state of the streetcar tracks on this stretch of roadway. Mr. Herb T. Jolliffe, representing local ratepayers, told Star reporters that this was not the Wrst mishap caused by neglected tracks. City Council should take note. The Blind Assassin . By Laura Chase. Reingold, Jaynes & Moreau, New York, 1947 Prologue: Perennials for the Rock Garden She has a single photograph of him. She tucked it into a brown envelope on which she'd written clippings, and hid the envelope between the pages of Perennials for the Rock Garden, where no one else would ever look. She's preserved this photo carefully, because it's almost all she has left of him. It's black and white, taken by one of those boxy, cumbersome flash cameras from before the war, with their accordion-pleat nozzles and their well-made leather cases that looked like muzzles, with straps and intricate buckles. The photo is of the two of them together, her and this man, on a picnic. Picnic is written on the back, in pencil - not his name or hers, just picnic. She knows the names, she doesn't need to write them down. They're sitting under a tree; it might have been an apple tree; she didn't notice the tree much at the time. She's wearing a white blouse with the sleeves rolled to the elbow and a wide skirt tucked around her knees. There must have been a breeze, because of the way the shirt is blowing up against her; or perhaps it wasn't blowing, perhaps it was clinging; perhaps it was hot. It was hot. Holding her hand over the picture, she can still feel the heat coming up from it, like the heat from a sun-warmed stone at midnight. The man is wearing a light-coloured hat, angled down on his head and partially shading his face. His face appears to be more darkly tanned than hers. She's turned half towards him, and smiling, in a way she can't remember smiling at anyone since. She seems very young in the picture, too young, though she hadn't considered herself too young at the time. He's smiling too - the whiteness Excerpted from The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

The Bridge Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.
I was informed of the accident by a policeman: the car was mine, and they'd traced the licence. His tone was respectful: no doubt he recognized Richard's name. He said the tires may have caught on a streetcar track or the brakes may have failed, but he also felt bound to inform me that two witnesses - a retired lawyer and a bank teller, dependable people - had claimed to have seen the whole thing. They'd said Laura had turned the car sharply and deliberately, and had plunged off the bridge with no more fuss than stepping off a curb. They'd noticed her hands on the wheel because of the white gloves she'd been wearing.
It wasn't the brakes, I thought. She had her reasons. Not that they were ever the same as anybody else's reasons. She was completely ruthless in that way.
"I suppose you want someone to identify her," I said. "I'll come down as soon as I can." I could hear the calmness of my own voice, as if from a distance. In reality I could barely get the words out; my mouth was numb, my entire face was rigid with pain. I felt as if I'd been to the dentist. I was furious with Laura for what she'd done, but also with the policeman for implying that she'd done it. A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water.
"I'm afraid there will be an inquest, Mrs. Griffen," he said.
"Naturally," I said. "But it was an accident. My sister was never a good driver." I could picture the smooth oval of Laura's face, her neatly pinned chignon, the dress she would have been wearing: a shirtwaist with a small rounded collar, in a sober colour - navy blue or steel grey or hospital-corridor green. Penitential colours - less like something she'd chosen to put on than like something she'd been locked up in. Her solemn half-smile; the amazed lift of her eyebrows, as if she were admiring the view.
The white gloves: a Pontius Pilate gesture. She was washing her hands of me. Of all of us.
What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain. Or of the stack of cheap school exercise books that she must have hidden that very morning, in the bureau drawer where I kept my stockings, knowing I would be the one to find them.
When the policeman had gone I went upstairs to change. To visit the morgue I would need gloves, and a hat with a veil. Something to cover the eyes. There might be reporters. I would have to call a taxi. Also I ought to warn Richard, at his office: he would wish to have a statement of grief prepared. I went into my dressing room: I would need black, and a handkerchief.
I opened the drawer, I saw the notebooks. I undid the crisscross of kitchen string that tied them together. I noticed that my teeth were chattering, and that I was cold all over. I must be in shock, I decided.
What I remembered then was Reenie, from when we were little. It was Reenie who'd done the bandaging, of scrapes and cuts and minor injuries: Mother might be resting, or doing good deeds elsewhere, but Reenie was always there. She'd scoop us up and sit us on the white enamel kitchen table, alongside the pie dough she was rolling out or the chicken she was cutting up or the fish she was gutting, and give us a lump of brown sugar to get us to close our mouths. Tell me where it hurts, she'd say. Stop howling. Just calm down and show me where. But some people can't tell where it hurts. They can't calm down. They can't ever stop howling.
From the Hardcover edition.