Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Devouring Books: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

"Having experienced both, I'm not sure which is worse: intense feeling, or the absence of it."

You may or may not remember that I started reading The Blind Assassin for a readalong waaaaaay back at the beginning of December, but hey look! I finally finished it! In my complete defence, I didn't forget about the readalong at all, but it was really poorly structured (by admission of the person who structured it, I might add) and the second week involved reading something stupid like 300 pages all at once and I was just not up for that shit. So, The Blind Assassin fell by the wayside and I finally got back into it sometime in January. And now it's now.

I wouldn't recommend doing this, by the way. Sometimes it works ok, like when you're really not into a book (AHEM Crime and Punishment) and you need to leave it for a while so you can get back to it and start liking it again, but when you're basically in love with the book? Leaving it and then coming back seems, firstly, foolish, but it's just like you have to make an effort to get back into it and a book you love should never really feel like an effort. 

So now you know how to read things properly. I'm glad.

The Blind Assassin is kind of an epic book, but at the same time it's a kind of really close character examination. It covers the entire life of Iris, our main character and gracious narrator, and all the things that were spiralling around her at various points in her life, but since it's all told from her viewpoint, it's basically an examination of her thoughts and actions about things that happened, and things that she would have done differently.

That's one of my favourite things about the book, actually. The fact that Iris is telling all of this with the benefit of hindsight means that she can look at all her past actions critically and think about what she could have done differently, or sometimes she just accepts that there's nothing she could have done because of the lack of choice there was for women when she was 18 or so. What all of this really means, though, is that The Blind Assassin has one of my very favourite things in literature, which is characters ruminating on what it's like to grow old. Iris can regret and be sad about the past all she likes, but really she'd give anything to be that young again, even if it means living through it all again. Which, obviously, is exactly what I want from my old lady characters in books.
"The old wish the young well, but they wish them ill also: they would like to eat them up and absorb their vitality, and remain immortal themselves. Without the protection of surliness and levity, all children would be crushed by the past- the past of others, loaded onto their shoulders."
 I guess I should talk about The Blind Assassin now. And by The Blind Assassin, I mean the book within this book that at times seems like it's just a device to get things into the story that aren't really directly relevant to it (I mean, women who are literally unable to speak? It's like Feminism 101 up in here!) but I PROMISE you that if you go on reading it all will become clear, and make you want to read the entire book from the beginning again because all of a sudden everything is cast in a new light. I realise this is annoyingly vague, but basically, I was vaguely annoyed by The Blind Assassin because it broke up the flow of Iris's narrative which I was really into, but now I'm wondering if it's not the most interesting part of the novel.

So basically. Margaret Atwood is the master of writing things, and of writing things from a woman's perspective, and I'm kind of genetically predisposed to like the things she writes, I think. BUT this is absolutely the best thing I've read by her since The Handmaid's Tale, and The Handmaid's Tale is basically one of my absolute favourite books. So this is really good, is what I'm saying, and I'm willing to bet it's even better when you don't take a month's break in the middle of it. So go and read it now, please? Thank you!

24 comments:

  1. I remember looking at this book on my mum's bookshelf for years, and then I finally stole it and brought it back to Brisbane but I still haven't read it. I love Margaret Atwood (although I've read shamefully few of her books)so I really should around to it sometime.

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    1. You should! Atwood is totally a writer where I'm like 'OMG I love her!' but as of 2011 I'd only read The Handmaid's Tale, so it was a fairly ridiculous thing to say. Now I feel a lot more comfortable saying it because LOOK I HAVE READ MORE BOOKS BY HER! But still totally not enough (I've read like 4, maybe?) But anyway, yeah. I approve this for your reading :)

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  2. Wow, okay, well that does sound kind of good. I have a love/hate relationship going on with Ms Atwood. Not really *hate* but more . . . baffled. I loved Handmaiden's Tale but then couldn't find anything else she wrote that was nearly as good, so I gave up. Admittedly I didn't try very hard, but still. Perhaps I will give this one a go? I see it around the used bookshop quite regularly, and the library. I have her memoir (I think it is anyway) Moving Targets? on my TBR shelf. I'd like to give that a try too.

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    1. See, I know what you mean about The Handmaid's Tale, and to be honest I STILL haven't found anything by her that's as good, but I really try not to look at authors like that, and I feel like this, and the other two books I've read by her, if I didn't know about The Handmaid's Tale, I still would have really enjoyed them, you know? (Did that make sense? It made sense in my brain...)

      Also oooooh, I didn't realise there was a memoir! Will have to add that to my wishlist :)

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  3. I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE the blind assassin :D So much that my mum is convinced that her copy of it is actually mine because of the amount of time it spent on my bookshelf, hehe.

    BUT it has been several years since I last read it. I really need to read it again! I read the year of the flood when I was back in the UK earlier this year, and it made me really want to reread all of the stuff by her which I have, but then I had to go back to Japan and was separated from my Atwood collection. I wish I could bring them all here, but I really don't have space to store any more books, so maybe I should get digital copies. Hmmmm..

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    1. Awwww, it does seem like digital copies are your best bet! But seriously, yes, ALL THE ATWOOD! Do you have any recommendations for what I should read next? I've only read this, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, and The Handmaid's Tale. Thoughts? :)

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    2. Hmmm...Those 4 are the ones that I would definitely recommend first to people... I haven't read any books by her that I didn't enjoy, so.. anything? Hehe. Wow, that wasn't very helpful was it? Sorry :|

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  4. I've had this one sitting on my shelf for years, so I'm glad to hear that you liked it! And that I haven't given it away yet because I kind of still wanted to read it. Maybe this will be the tie-breaker for whether or not I offically like Atwood or not.

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    1. Ooooh, maybe so! And I hope it's a yes ;) READ IT NOW SARAH! Or, you know, whenever you're ready and stuff...

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  5. Hmm.. I've had this one around for ages and have sworn to complete Atwood's works. I'm glad that you brought the break in narrative so I know to keep going. I think I would have anyway but it's still good to know. I recently read Alias Grace and anticipated liking it much more than I did. I've heard so many good things about this one so I'm going in with high hopes!

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    1. Yeah, I think a normal person would have kept going with a book that they REALLY liked, and I would have normally, but I don't know, Christmas? Let's blame Christmas for this. I actually own Alias Grace but I quite strongly feel like I won't like it that much, so hopefully it'll surprise me like it underwhelmed you! This is genuinely SO good though :)

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  6. I have zero memory of what actually happens in this book. All I remember is how smelly the bus was that I read it on every day. But I have a vague dislike of Atwood, so I gaze warily upon it now.

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    1. Ewwwww smelly bus memories! I will never understand your Atwood dislike and I really just have to base it on the fact that you haven't read The Handmaid's Tale yet because ZOMG dystopias and feminism, what's not to like?! But I assure you that this is good.

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  7. It is an amazing read and I definitely need to re-read it. I really enjoyed the contrast of the two book sand the way everything was wrapped up. It doesn't hurt that Iris has some of the best zingers in the many books I've read!

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    1. The contrast of the two books is SO good once you get to the end, right? I'm still a bit mind-blown by it now, to be honest! Old lady Iris is brilliant, and I genuinely adore old people characters who are like actual *people* instead of weird caricatures. It's just fab.

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  8. I really should read more Atwood cos the only thing I have read is The Handmaid's Tale which I read because a class made me do it.

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    1. I was you a mere year ago, young one (except I read THT by myself because I have NEVER read Atwood in all my years of learning stuff). Anyway, in my very expert opinion I would say read this next because it's awesome, ALTHOUGH if you liked the dystopianess of THT then best go for Oryx and Crake and then The Year of the Flood.

      Or just read whatever, I don't know.

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  9. I read this a few weeks ago and also loved it! And, actually, I looked forward to the bits of "The Blind Assassin", got hooked by the story inside the story itself xD It's the third book I've read by Atwood. The Handmaid's Tale is also a favourite of mine (Oryx and Crake too) but this one comes pretty close. I cannot tell what it is about her writing, but I love it!

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    1. Yes, I really love her writing too! It's just like... Not too flowery or anything, and then there'll be a sentence where I'm just like 'WOAH!' and that's amazing!

      Have you read The Year of the Flood? That's in the same series as Oryx and Crake and it's really good (I think I actually preferred it to OaC tbh!)

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  10. I should add this to my TBR list! I read one of Atwood's poems for school and later ended up attending one of her lectures, which was amazing, but I still haven't read novels that she wrote yet. I'll definitely be reading The Blind Assassin!

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    1. You definitely should! The Handmaid's Tale is still my favourite (in case you couldn't tell THAT from the comments!) but this is pretty bloody great!

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  11. So what you're saying is that I really need to read The Handmaid's Tale?

    I really enjoyed this book - the whole way through, I was wondering - how did she write this?! Like, really, what was the process because it is so intricate!

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    1. You REALLY need to read The Handmaid's Tale- I'm not kidding!

      I know exactly what you mean, too! I was like 'so did she write 'The Blind Assassin' first, and then Iris's bits, or did she write Iris's story first or was it all parallel? Because whatever way she did it, I'm just like :O wowzers!

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