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The Blind Assassin
by Margaret Atwood

This year's winner of the Booker.
      The Blind Assassin is a tale of two sisters, one of whom dies under ambiguous circumstances in the opening pages. The survivor, Iris Chase Griffen, initially seems a little cold-blooded about this death in the family. But as Margaret Atwood's most ambitious work unfolds--a tricky process, in fact, with several nested narratives and even an entire novel-within-a-novel--we're reminded of just how complicated the familial game of hide-and-seek can be.



Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (1 of 12), Read 41 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@home.com Date: Monday, September 17, 2001 10:45 AM This discussion should have started 2 days ago by the calendar, but I STILL have a couple hundred pages to go. While I admit the stories manage to hold my interest to some extent, the act of reading the book could more aptly be described as "slogging through" at this point. It started with the mental barrier: over 500 pages. I would only very rarely choose a book of this length on my own, I find them so often too much, but I must confess I voted for this one. Another thing slowing me down now, so near the finish line, is the fact that I've been reading it for so long I believe I've already thought of many of the revelations that are sure to come. The disjointed construction of the book allowed me to think outside the book, something I almost never do ordinarily. I normally get into the flow of a book and put my brain on cruise, allowing the author full control. One of these instances was just last night, when I had this distracting thought: younger (strange, uncontrollable) and older sisters. Much older (starchy, distant) husband. radical young man as a secondary element. aging home as occasional setting. One could make a pretty good case for Atwood's using Howard's End as sole inspiration here! Tonya
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (4 of 12), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 09:31 PM Tonya, You have to finish the novel to see why I think that Laura is the BLIND ASSASSIN. I thought that Iris and Laura were brought up to be helpless. They had a smattering of education and were not encouraged to do anything practical after their father started losing his fortune. Iris did attempt to work in the office of the factory, but she didn't seem very serious about it. I am sure that this must have been typical of their social class and time. Iris seemed to be a decoration to her husband and his sister. Her life was really intolerable, I thought. Let me know when you have finished. Jane
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (5 of 12), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 11:14 PM ******************************************** ***WARNING**** MAJOR PLOT SOILER************ Jane, I have finished the novel and I would like you to elaborate on why you thought Laura was the "blind assassin." Was she an assassin because her suicide seemed to end any chance Iris had for happiness and because it was such an effective way of getting back at Richard? The "blind" part could be because she was oblivious to her sister's relationship with her lover. But could Iris also be considered the blind assassin because of the effects of her actions (or lack thereof) on Laura, and her refusal to see that Richard was abusing her? I could see that one coming a mile away, but Iris seemed to choose not to know. It was difficult for me to accept that she never even visited Laura in that mental institution. Throughout the book there seems an undertone of anger at Laura. Did that predate Laura's suicide, or was it the result of it? Since the story is told from the perspective of the present looking back on the past, it's hard to tell. Ann P.S. Saint Maybe is my favorite Anne Tyler
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (6 of 12), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@home.com Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 10:01 AM Jane, I have finished the book. but I'll admit, after taking so long to read it, that a lot of detail has already flown the coop. The blind assassin-- I'll try to remember all this, and you correct me if I'm wrong, okay? He is a man who made the finest carpets in the world as a child, until the intricate work blinded him. Then with his other senses heightened as a result of his blindness, he became an assassin for hire. But, when hired to kill the virgin sacrifice, he failed and instead fell in love with her. Together they escaped to outside the city walls, passed themselves off as prophets to the invading barbarians, and further escaped to live with whichever version of mountain-dwellers you choose. Is that about it? I did try, in the beginning, to determine who the blind assassin of the real story was supposed to be, and although in lifestyle he most closely resembled Alex, I couldn't make anyone really fit the parameters. My feeling is that Iris was more blind than anyone, while her sister displayed the more developed second sense (hence her wacky habit of tinting photographs to indicate inner thoughts and characteristics.) More later; I promise I'll think about this book today. I really haven't thought about it much at all, even all of the last week I was reading it. Tonya
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (7 of 12), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 09:47 PM Ann and Tonya, **********************SPOILER************** This is why I thought that Laura was the blind assassin in the novel. After it became clear that Iris had written the book, I was sure she thought of Laura as the spoiler of her life. Laura was abused as a child, much as the assassin the story, and then she killed herself before Iris could get close to her again. Maybe part of Iris was already dead after her lover was killed, but I think that Laura's suicide about finished her off. She seemed not to be able to function as a wife or mother after that. Jane
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (8 of 12), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 10:58 PM ******** Spoiler Alert*************** Jane, Yes, I can certainly see that. I think it works both ways. Laura also thought of Iris as the person who spoiled her life. How much of the ending caught you by surprise? I knew the book within the book was about Iris, rather than Laura, but the revelation at the end that Iris had actually written it explained how that was possible. That surprised me, but I had figured out long ago that Richard was abusing Laura. Why do you suppose Iris was so obtuse in ignoring all the signs? Ann
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (9 of 12), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Anne Papale mapreads@aol.com Date: Thursday, September 20, 2001 08:00 PM **********MORE SPOILERS******************** Sorry to be so tardy in checking in. My initial reaction was that Iris was the Blind Assassin. After I figured out fairly early that she was the woman meeting Alex and not Laura, I started thinking of Iris as quite duplicitous, and not naive at all. She knew that Laura loved Alex, but she was the one sneaking around with him. Once she knew that Richard would keep telegrams of her own father's death from her, of course she had to know that Laura would try to contact her from the hospital. Yes, Iris was laid up with her "condition", but she wasn't in a coma. She just really didn't have any interest in considering Laura's plight. But having said all this, I can see your points too, Jane. It's fun to speculate about this. MAP
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (10 of 12), Read 11 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, September 21, 2001 01:05 PM I loved this book. The writing was wonderful. I particularly liked how Atwood is able to coin metaphors that are fresh and original, yet so apt that once you read them you are convinced that there is no other way to say it. I had the plot twists figured out ahead of time, too, but this book was about much more than plot. In fact, I think Atwood may have wanted and planned to have the facts gradually dawn on the reader. I was captivated by the voice of Iris as an old woman. She was so wonderfully cranky, and so on point with her remarks. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (11 of 12), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Friday, September 21, 2001 01:22 PM Ruth, I started it and couldn't stay with it. I was confused and the switch back and forth between the two stories bothered me. So I put it down. Used to be, once I started a book I would finish it, come hell or high water, but I don't do that anymore. Maybe I should pick this one up again and stick with it. Beej
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (12 of 12), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, September 21, 2001 02:01 PM If you hang on for awhile, Beej, the confusion soon straightens itself out. I found this easy going once I figured out that the Laura Chase book was a parallel story, and that the scifi story was a metaphorical story enclosed in the parallel story. And as things go on, things are much less fractured. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (13 of 26), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Anne Papale mapreads@aol.com Date: Saturday, September 22, 2001 08:01 PM Ruth, I agree with what you said about the cranky Iris. It sort of reminded me of ALL PASSION SPENT, by Sackville-West. It's that tone that says "I know they won't approve, but I'm going to do this anyway." By the way, I don't eat doughnuts, but I wish I had a doughnut shop I could walk to every morning. MAP
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (14 of 26), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 09:11 AM I had a hard time with the fragmentation of the first few chapters. But then, life echoed that fragmentation, and any confusion I felt might not have come from the book. The last two days, I've had big chunks of time to devote to it, and it just flowed. So, Beej, I hope you keep with it; it's worth it in the end. I am sometimes way too literal, and it never occurred to me that "the Blind Assassin" was anything other than the character in the book within a book. You guys got me thinking. (You're good at that.) So after some thought, I believe that Iris is a blind assassin in another form. Her beautiful woven rug is her book; her slavery is her sacrificial marriage; and her cunning is her carefully hidden silence and cultivated ignorance within her marriage. Her victim is Richard. The book was written in Laura's name to keep Iris hidden, but also to make Richard think that Laura was the character in the book. One question that I haven't been able to figure out without rereading big sections: Why did Laura kill herself? Was there some pact she made with God that if she succumbed to Richard, Alex would be safe? On the surface, it seems like that's what happened, but I don't get it. Sherry
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (15 of 26), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 12:17 PM I hadn't speculated on the Blind Assassin's metaphorical significance either, Sherry, until others brought it up here. I have a terrible habit of completely ignoring the titles of books. The BA's significance got to be important. Since it's the title of the book I'm sure MA intended for it to resonate throughout the book and not just in the embedded story. One thing that struck me in that embedded story was the blindness of the assassin coupled with the muteness of the sacrificial maiden. I'm sure we're supposed to draw some metaphorical conclusions from that. I kept thinking of things like "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil," and "The blind leading the halt." Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (16 of 26), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 12:43 PM Sherry, Laura took Iris's car and committed suicide right after Iris told her that Alex was dead and revealed to her that they had been lovers. I think Laura was definitely the sacrificial maiden in the modern version of the blind assassin tale. In speaking of why she allowed Richard to have sex with her she said: "It was horrible, but I had to do it. I had to make the sacrifice. I had to take the pain and suffering onto myself. That's what I promised God. I knew if I did that, it would save Alex." Perhaps she could have recovered from the discovery that Alex had been killed in the war after all, but the news that her own sister had been Alex's lover must have been devastating. I imagine she felt that God, who had always been very important to her, had mocked her. Iris was left with the guilt. Ann
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (17 of 26), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 03:05 PM I guess what I'm trying to understand is why Laura thought that having sex with Richard would save Alex. Usually her metaphysical logic was understandable, within the confines of her unusual mind, but I couldn't get a handle that particular leap. I also think the riddle that had "nothing" as the answer was important within the context of the whole book. Also that picture that Laura cut two different ways, one with Laura's hand and Alex and Iris, and the other with Iris's hand and Alex and Laura. Why was Alex so important to both women? Sherry
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (18 of 26), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 03:55 PM Lord, the details of this are already escaping me, but didn't Richard have something on Alex? Or perhaps he convinced Laura that he had. I had the feeling that she was partially bullied by Richard, and partially blackmailed. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (19 of 26), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 06:53 PM I must have missed that detail first time through, but it makes sense. If I really want to know the answer, I'll have to do a bit of rereading. Sherry
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (20 of 26), Read 16 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 09:24 PM Ruth, I think that you are right. Richard probably told Laura that he had the proof that Alex burned down the factory (whether he did or not), and Laura thought that she was sacrificing herself to save Alex. From what you have all said, it sounds as if both women were blind assassins for each other. It is like the double edged sword. They were both involved with the same men. I was going to say that they both became pregnant by the same man, but that isn't true. Iris became pregnant with Alex's baby, I think. Their lives were parallel in many ways. There is so much in this novel. Jane
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (21 of 26), Read 17 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 10:17 PM Iris asked Laura how she thought she was saving Alex by having sex with Richard: page 487 Iris: "Save Alex from what?" Laura: "From being caught. They would have shot him. Callie Fitzsimmons knew where he was, and she told. She told Richard." "I can't believe that." "Callie was a snitch," said Laura. That's what Richard said--he said Callie kept him informed. Remember when she was in jail, and Richard got her out? That's why he did it. He owed it to her." You're right, Jane. This novel has many different levels. I like the elaborate construction. One could also consider Alex the blind assassin. After all, he made love to the beautiful young woman and strove to overthrow the powers that be. What did you think of Winifred and of her relationship with her brother in particular? Pretty strange, huh? Ann
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (22 of 26), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 10:18 PM Callie was the former lover of the girls' father. Wasn't he a sad case? Ann
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (23 of 26), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, September 24, 2001 07:50 AM That makes perfect sense. I remember that part, Ann, but I had a hard time following it, since I had read the part about Callie weeks ago, it seems (time seems to have stretched out considerably lately). Richard probably just made that up. Sherry
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (24 of 26), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, September 24, 2001 11:55 AM Or did he? Maybe Callie really was a snitch. Little in this book seems to be what it first seems to be.And everything is nested one within the other. It reminds me of the milk can with the cow in the can with the cow in the can with the cow in the can... I'd love to know if MA figured out this complicated structure before she wrote, or if it arose as she wrote. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (25 of 26), Read 8 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Monday, September 24, 2001 09:29 PM Iris later asked Callie if she had told Richard about Alex, and she vehemently denied it. Who do you believe? I think that I would believe Callie over Richard. Jane
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (26 of 26), Read 9 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, September 24, 2001 09:59 PM I would too, given a level playing field. But maybe Richard had something on Callie and she was ashamed she caved? But you're probably right, though. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (27 of 33), Read 43 times Conf: Reading List From: Theresa Simpson theresa.a.simpson@gte.net Date: Sunday, September 30, 2001 11:44 PM Whew! Finally finished this one. Not entirely certain it was worth the trip. I've felt this way after finishing all of Atwood's books (and I've read 5-6), with the notable exception of Handmaid's Tale, which I thought was excellent. I'm trying to figure out why Atwood generally leaves me lukewarm. One thing is, I think she ALWAYS writes in archetypes. This worked very well in Handmaid's Tale, which was a fable, the natural habitat of the archetype. In her other books, Atwood plonks her arche-characters down into typical late-20th century (I know, I know, we've turned the corner, but consider when this and her other books were written) narratives, and they don't fit very well. Other writers, notably Robertson Davies, who also always wrote archetypes, IMO, carry this off very well, but with Atwood it just doesn't quite do, at least for me. Theresa I had to quit my fire-eating career when I could no longer tell when to spit and when to swallow. Daphne Gottlieb
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (28 of 33), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, October 02, 2001 03:00 PM Theresa, Could you elaborate please on the archetypes in BA? I saw the characters as unique individuals, so I missed this aspect. Ann
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (29 of 33), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Tuesday, October 02, 2001 09:27 PM Ann, I was going to ask the same question about the archetypes. I didn't see the characters in BA that way. Jane
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (30 of 33), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Theresa Simpson theresa.a.simpson@gte.net Date: Wednesday, October 03, 2001 02:22 AM I guess I see Atwood's characters as being constructions for the conveyance of her moral (in the big sense of moral); rather than characters as in personalities (like you and me). Richard is the arch-fiend; Daddy was the arch-failure; Iris is, truly, the Blind Assassin, in more ways than one (remember that Lady Justice is typically portrayed with a blindfold?) I was having difficulty elucidating on why I think this, so I did an AltaVista search (+"Margaret Atwood" +archetype) and lo and behold, found several articles on this very topic. Per The Canadian and World Encylopedia entry: "She studied at Victoria Coll, U of T, 1957-61, where the influence of Jay MacPherson and Northrop FRYE directed her early poetry towards myth and archetype as exemplified by Double Persephone . . . " I think this influence still shows in Atwood's novels, but obviously am having difficulty explaining why I feel this in my own words. Theresa I received my first virus ever tonight (the "I send you this file in order to have your advice" virus - now I wanna know how it got here. It's come in twice since I logged on tonight - of course, I did not open the attachments.
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (31 of 33), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, October 03, 2001 08:06 AM (I rec'd letters just like that and deleted them right away. They were from somebody called Nifer.) I think I understand what you mean about the archetypes, but I think Atwood blended the archetype elements with the elements that personalized the characters. I noticed that Richard was all-bad, and Iris even admitted that, because she said something to the effect that she didn't know any other part of him. Since Richard's personality was shown to us from that one POV, I wasn't bothered that he was only cast in one dimension. Sherry
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (32 of 33), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, October 03, 2001 03:24 PM Theresa, I felt that some of Atwood's earlier books were too influenced by her pro-feminist message, but I really did not discern a "lesson" in this book. I agree that Richard and his sister were one-dimensional. As Sherry said, they were portrayed only from Iris's point of view. However, I thought that both Iris and Laura were complex and intriguing characters. I finished the book not sure what I thought about either one. I think that's a good sign. Ann
Topic: THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood (33 of 33), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Wednesday, October 03, 2001 03:50 PM Eavesdropping on Atwood talk -- but that Nifer is one busy little bee -- had FOUR of them in the e-mail two Tues evening times and two after midnight times -- titled 7th final, Thematic Essays, 9th-ch7t, and letter-Kirsten -- don't know about attachments sapped these without a glance since I've never seen Nifer before -- crazy stuff. Wonder where this one came in from? Dottie

 
Margaret Atwood
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