So finally I have gotten to the point where I can review what was meant to be the first book in the Savidge Reads Big Weekenders. However I think it is better to say that this is the book that inspired the Big Weekenders, as even devoting some long reading hours to it this simply isn’t a book you can indulge yourself with over one weekend. I have only read one Atwood book before this two, maybe three years ago, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved. I tried reading The Robber Bride but for some reason couldn’t get into it, then I tried this book three years ago and 15 pages in my Gran told me the ending so I have waited to forget it. Would I manage to read the whole book unlike last time? Would I love my second dalliance with Margaret, especially such a long one that has so much to say?
I don’t think that however long I made this review of Margaret Atwood’s Man Booker Winner ‘The Blind Assassin’ I could ever hope to cover all the book is trying to say, the themes it covers, the many voices it has. I actually think a task like that with a book like this would be impossible. That isn’t a cop out at all as I am going to try mu hardest to condense everything I have taken away from what is a magnificent book but by no means an easy book. I have actually been really surprised at how many people have said to me ‘oh I didn’t like that book at all’ and ‘oh it’s Atwood’s worst, it really is’ I can see why people make the first comment, I whole heartedly disagree with them but I can see why people might not like this book. If the latter comment is true after reading this book I could easily become an Atwood-a-holic as if this is her worst her best will be mind blowing.
The Blind Assassin starts with Iris Chase describing and remembering her sister Laura’s death after she drove herself off a bridge. From this dark and interesting start we are told the story in alternating parts. Iris narrates her own personal history, the story of her sisters life and their backgrounds that made them who they are. The other parts are told through Laura’s very own novel ‘The Blind Assassin’ (so a book within a book) published after her early death along with newspaper cuttings about the Chase Sisters and events in their lives. Has that confused anyone? It confused me a little at first especially as the Laura’s book ‘The Blind Assassin’ (the book within Atwood’s book) has a character who tells another story, so a story within the story within the story, that is set in a foreign world (which I thought had shades of The Handmaid’s Tale) and is like a dark science fiction like fairy tale, wonderful. Do not let the confusion or the words ‘science fiction’ put you off as I promise you persevere with this book and it pays off in dividends. It just needs some effort from the reader, but should every book no matter what you read.
As all these different elements are woven together so wonderfully by Atwood we see a picture emerging, however the picture changes dependent on who’s version you here until finally you think the full picture has formed and then it shifts slightly, that’s all I will say. Through the narration of Iris in particular, who is a wonderful slightly outrageous and sarcastic old lady compared to her timid youth “I’m not senile… if I burn the house down it will be on purpose”, we get a history of Canada and its changes in the 20th century, a look at how companies were taken over and ruined, and the rights of women and how they have changed. Like I said to cover every subject, theme or voice in this particular book in one review after only one full read through of the book I would say is pretty much impossible.
Along the way through happy and dark times, different voices and 633 pages of quite small print Atwood also treats us to a host of wonderful characters. Be they the tongue-less mute and her Blind Assassin in the fairytale, to the wonderful characters in both Iris and Laura Clarke’s lives such as the firm but fair housekeeper Reenie or Iris’ awful but wonderful to read sister-in-law Winifred. There is a whole host of wonderful characters to keep you reading on, and I will admit for some reason pages 200 – 300 were a strange struggle for me but the characters kept me going and I am so, so glad they did.
I would recommend this book to everyone and anyone. I am aware some people will think I must be crazy. My advice would be take it slowly, persevere and don’t see this book as a book to race through so you have read a Man Booker, or read one of Atwood’s biggest books (both in length and in sales) relax with it and work at it, you’ll be glad you did, I was.