Summary and book reviews of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin

by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2000, 544 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2001, 544 pages

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Book Summary

The Blind Assassin is a richly layered and uniquely rewarding experience, told in a style that magnificently captures the colloquialisms and clichés of the 1930s and 1940s.

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.

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 license. 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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the intricate structure of this novel and the methods Atwood used to construct it.
  2. Atwood writes in three different forms in The Blind Assassin: memoir (Iris's telling of her story), fiction (Laura's novel), and science fiction (the story within that novel). Comment on the similarities and differences of these forms as shown in this novel.
  3. In the science fiction story, we're told that it is a saying among the child slave carpet weavers that "only the blind are free" (p. 22). Discuss this and its significance to the title of the novel.
  4. Iris notes, "Some people can't tell where it hurts. They can't calm down. They can't ever stop howling" (p. 2). Who howls loudest and longest in this novel and why?...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Atwood here surpasses even The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace.

Kirkus Reviews

Atwood's skillfully woven tenth novel is her most ambitious and challenging work to date, and a worthy successor to her recent triumph, Alias Grace (1996). It tells two absorbing stories that cast an initially enigmatic, ultimately pitilessly revealing light on each other. The central one is octogenarian Iris Griffen's bitter reminiscence of her life as the privileged daughter of a prosperous Ontario family, the Chases, and later as wife to Richard Griffen, the businessman who effectively inherits and firmly directs the Chase fortunes. The counterpart story, The Blind Assassin, is a strange futuristic tale that dramatizes in unusual (faux-Oriental) fashion a nameless woman's obsession with a science-fiction writer whose imaginings blithely mirror and exploit his power over her. ....Boldly imagined and brilliantly executed.

Library Journal

Some readers may figure out Atwood's wrap-up before book's end. Worry not--nothing will dampen the pleasure of getting there. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

Karen

Patience, please
When I first started reading this book I thought I wouldn't be able to finish it. The segments about the Blind Assassin and the news clips seemed to interrupt the story, and I couldn't put them together with the rest of the novel. Thank goodness I ...   Read More

yoda

Ten days after the war ended,my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge
What I am about to do is very difficult. I really want to plug this book, so other people will pick it up and love it too. I don't know how to categorize it, much less what to put in this review. So here goes nothing. When I first saw this book a...   Read More

SMN

This book rocks!! There are no words that can say how much I loved this book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


SMN

This book is nothing short of a masterpiece! Atwood takes one book and it holds four storys and put them into one book. The story takes you to places you never could think of. The words of Atwood flow from the pen with easy. I loved this book!

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