the blind atonement

two words: déjà vu?

i been here before

Two sisters. One betrays the other. The betrayed one dies young with a love unfulfilled. The traitor lives to a ripe old age and writes a self-reflexive novel to atone for her deeds. Sound familiar? I certainly smell a rat.

I read Atonement three weeks ago – I hated it. I’ve also just finished The Blind Assassin, eerily familiar, nested narrative and all – I didn’t mind it so much and I rue that my sentiments had been hijacked.

There are a few reasons I prefer The Blind Assassin. For one, Iris is likable. She doesn’t pretend to be anything but a bitter and lonely old bitch, and I like her for it. Her tragically-earned toilet cubicle wisdom is witty and cutting. It attests to the devastating calls she made in the past due to her mercurial switches between docility and unfettered vindictiveness. Now, her memoir is rendered in her obvious creativity, her intimate knowledge of loss, and her acerbic sense of humour.

She is not just a self-absorbed old cow, like Briony, trying to feel better. Iris honours her guilt. Here’s how. Spoiler alert!

There’s blood everywhere in The Blind Assassin, from Laura’s death in the opening line, to Iris’s in the end. Children are blinded to make dazzlingly intricate rugs and throats slashed for perverse glory and profit in Sakiel-Norn. In a parallel universe, young men die brutally in war (also in Atonement) so mercenary industrialists like Richard Griffen/Paul Marshall (both paedophiles) can prosper. Laura sacrifices her body for Alex’s freedom. Iris turns a blind eye to this and willingly morphs into a Snilfard, sacrificing her younger sister to Richard for what amounts to fancy clothes and tenuous status -Laura astutely recreates this transformation in her hand-tinting of the wedding photographs. In full-circle, Iris then offers her own sacrifice by forfeiting everything she has, including her daughter, to destroy Richard. She gives Laura posthumous credit for The Blind Assassin, and dedicates her life to preserving her memory wanting nothing in return, not forgiveness and certainly not accolades, just a selfless laying out of the truth without worry over libel or being dethroned. This is how she honours her sister in the end.


Another reason for preferring The Blind Assassin is the plot, even though it repeatedly depicts the same events from different paradigms just like Atonement. The Blind Assassin simply covers a more vast range of events and I don’t mean the two world wars as opposed to one. There’s a degenerating love-affair between a wealthy heiress and a fugitive; the rise and fall of a button dynasty; and the destruction of multiple alien civilizations – which in turn means seedy joints and public fornication; cannibalistic social-climbing; and marauding hot zombies! Hot zombies make everything awesome. I, for one, appreciate not being subject to the angst of a lone anile coot whose imagination stretches only as far as her pinocchial nose.

Speaking of which, both novels have an involuted  first-person author/narrator who constantly critiques the narrative process. The inherent existential question is astoundingly similar in exposition and resolve. I can’t stop thinking they’re the same goddamn novel. But take a wild guess which book was written first. The Blind Assassin has two years on Atonement.

So, here’s a third reason I prefer The Blind Assassin: It’s original! Either Ian knows Margaret extremely well, they may have gone to a philosophy/writing seminar together perhaps, shared long walks, synchronized their authorship crises even. Or this rat is beginning to stink.

déjà vu-teena marie
love dog-tv on the radio
fuck you-cee-lo
rabbit heart-florence and the machine

chekov? guy from star trek write story?

Gary Shteyngart’s shameless but star-studded promotion of his latest novel, Super Sad True Love Story, pokes fun at wankers in general -himself included- and Atonement author, Ian McEwan.

This is the Socratic method, this is inquiry.

Makes me want to skip the rest of the year, just so I can get to reading Super Sad Sexy Whatever

Thank you, familialdiscontent!

atonement should atone

two words: interminable tripe

vanilla ice

Atonement is, in all honesty, convoluted dross. The oh-so clever bit is the self-reflexive writer writing about a self-reflexive book, creating a mirror hall of infinite novels -and that’s just within the text, McEwan hasn’t even entered the picture yet: It is overwrought and the gimmick isn’t worth wading through unsympathetic characters and uninspiring prose.

Then to find Atonement is the Ice-Ice Baby of the literary world! Read: Did McEwan Plagiarize? Why is this book even on the list! I’m disappointed, Richard.

Maybe the movie is better, but I don’t want to know.

ice-ice baby-vanilla ice
the embrace-michael nyman
the heart asks pleasure first-michael nyman
the promise-michael nyman

softening towards atonement

I’m powering through my resentment and reading Atonement. Every sentence, no, every word affirms my hatred of the characters, the prose, all of it. I really can’t stand this book.

Then a song on my iPod coincides with the bus-stop kiss, p.206 …and I have to stop reading for a two-minute heaving sob. The music, Michael Nyman’s The Embrace, and the moment described, were so tender together I was beside myself, and I’ve softened a bit since; I’ve downgraded the intense loathing to a mild aversion.

A postmortem on why I’ve subconsciously linked the music with this novel reveals:

  1. treacherous little girls in both The Piano and Atonement, and
  2. the illicit  and devastating passion between main characters.

i’m in here…

two words: refreshing innocence

I’d never heard of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but I’m glad I have now, just for its nostalgic value. It is such a delight!

Margaret is innocent in her pubescence, before competition with other girls, one in particular who lies and cheats, takes hold. She gets sucked-in for a while and loses some of her confidence, but her ‘You talkin’ to me?’ eyebrow is intact, so I suspect she’ll be okay, and in the end she is.

Ultimately, as the title suggests, this book isn’t about puberty; it’s a discourse on personal religion.

Margaret is blissfully ignorant in the no-religion cocoon her parents create for her. She has an intuitive and independent relationship with god and she is happy chatting away in her alone-time with an ethereal entity of whose proportions only she knows – maybe it’s a teapot, or a flying spaghetti monster. Her parents’ euphemistic and pusillanimous  ‘Holiday Greetings’ and ‘December Tradition Gifts’, however, are inadequate in buffering the Jewish/Christian tug-a-war raging between her maternal and paternal grand-parents, or placating the religious expectations of her peers.

To silence the noise blocking her spontaneous god tentacles, Margaret decides to explore, against her parents’ wishes, what her friends and grand-parents are all yapping about. She looks for god in temple and church, but finds she only feels god when she’s alone. Everything else, the hats, the singing, the pomp and ceremony, is a distraction.

The battle for Margaret’s soul still rages on and comes to a head when the grand-parents show up. All the adults, including her parents, fail Margaret in ensuing hostile exchanges. They neglect to notice that the rope being pulled in this tug-a-war is a twelve year old girl. In an act of spite and defiance, she vows to never speak to god again.

Margaret’s self-imposed nihilism has dire consequences. In her grief, she becomes petulant, malicious and despondent.

Nature comes to the rescue. She gets her first period, and knowing that god wouldn’t miss such a momentous occasion, she seamlessly resumes chatting away with her spaghetti monster and is happy again. As she says,

As long as she loves me and I love her, what difference does religion make?

She has had it right all along, as children often do.

I really enjoyed reading Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and will be passing it on to my own little girl. The narration rings true and I find myself reliving all my own ‘firsts’. Which prepubescent girl hasn’t chanted, ‘I must, I must, I must increase my bust’? It is heart-warming and a welcome respite from the weight of some of the other novels I’m reading.

i’m in heresia

Note to Briony: This is what little girls should be getting up to, not accusing innocent people of heinous crimes!

not a janeite

I’m having a hard time reading Atonement because of how pissed-off I am at this meddlesome, self-righteous bitch, Briony. I know she’s only 13, which is why she should:

  1. know better, or
  2. shut the fuck up!!!

The novel has me emotionally invested enough to have my heart racing during the letter exchange scene; then again, my heart races when I close my eyes in the shower.

I also have clear opinions on each character: Emily is a lazy bitch, Cee is a selfish bitch, Leon is an apathetic dick, Robbie is a stupid dick… I need to finish this book just to be done with it.

In all honesty, Atonement was doomed when I read the epigraph from Northanger Abbey: I’m not a huge fan of Jane Austen novels and that quote makes my blood boil.

I’d also refrained from watching the movie just so reading the novel would be the better, not a huge loss since the insufferable Keira Knightley- the it-girl of English period movies- plays Cee.

Imagine my disappointment at go. Sad face.


Though still a work in progress, here are the novels that I’ll be reading in 2011.

Struck through titles have been completed.
Bold titles are presently being read.
* indicates reread.

  1. 1984-1948-George Orwell
  2. The Adventures of Augie March-1953-Saul Bellow
  3. All The King’s Men-1946-Robert Penn Warren
  4. American Pastoral-1997-Philip Roth
  5. An American Tragedy-1925-Theodore Dreiser
  6. Animal Farm-1946-George Orwell*
  7. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret-1970-Judy Blume
  8. At Swim-Two-Birds-1938-Flann O’Brien
  9. Atonement-2002-Ian McEwan
  10. Beloved-1987-Toni Morrison*
  11. The Big Sleep-1939-Raymond Chandler
  12. The Blind Assassin-2000-Margaret Atwood
  13. Blood Meridian-1986-Cormac McCarthy
  14. Catch-22-1961-Joseph Heller
  15. The Catcher in the Rye-1951-J.D. Salinger*
  16. A Clockwork Orange-1963-Anthony Burgess
  17. The Corrections-2001-Jonathan Franzen
  18. The Death of the Heart-1958-Elizabeth Bowen
  19. The French Lieutenant’s Woman-1969-John Fowles
  20. Go Tell it on the Mountain-1953-James Baldwin
  21. The Grapes of Wrath-1939-John Steinbeck
  22. The Great Gatsby-1925-F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. A Handful of Dust-1934-Evelyn Waugh
  24. The Heart is A Lonely Hunter-1940-Carson McCullers
  25. The Heart of the Matter-1948-Graham Greene
  26. Herzog-1964-Saul Bellow
  27. Housekeeping-1981-Marilynne Robinson
  28. I, Claudius-1934-Robert Graves
  29. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe-1950-C. S. Lewis
  30. Lolita-1955-Vladimir Nabokov*
  31. Lord of the Flies-1955-William Golding
  32. Lucky Jim-1954-Kingsley Amis
  33. The Man Who Loved Children-1940-Christina Stead
  34. Midnight’s Children-1981-Salman Rushdie
  35. Mrs. Dalloway-1925-Virginia Woolf
  36. Naked Lunch-1959-William Burroughs
  37. Never Let Me Go-2005-Kazuo Ishiguro
  38. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-1962-Ken Kesey
  39. The Painted Bird-1965-Jerzy Kosinski
  40. A Passage to India-1924-E. M. Forster
  41. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie-1961-Muriel Sparks
  42. Snow Crash-1992-Neal Stephenson
  43. The Sound and the Fury-1929-William Faulkner
  44. The Sun Also Rises-1926-Ernest Hemingway
  45. Super Sad True Love Story-2010-Gary Shteyngart
  46. Things Fall Apart-1959-Chinua Achebe*
  47. To the Lighthouse-1927-Virginia Woolf
  48. Ubik-1969-Phillip Dick
  49. Ulysses-1922-James Joyce
  50. Under The Net-1954-Iris Murdoch
  51. Under The Volcano-1947-Malcolm Lowry
  52. Watchmen-1986-Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons*
  53. White Teeth-2000-Zadie Smith*
  54. Wide Sargasso Sea-1966-Jean Rhys*