atwood, margaret atwood’s prose

margaret atwood

I’m tired of reading repeated phrases, the repeated phrases that populate the repeated phrases of Atwood’s prose. I enjoyed the story, but it seemed at times to never end, and the rehashed phrases and passages became annoyingly familiar rather than illuminating.

She’s a swell dame, but I’ll pass on more Atwood in the future.

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

what was that, dear?

It’s been ages since my last post. What have I been up to? Gardening mostly. That and bundling off Rocket, my 5 year old, to her first day of school. It took a solid week of gardening to withstand the maternal blow.

Now I’m back and The Blind Assassin is done. I had to return one copy to the library to avoid a fine and ended up borrowing another, a large print one, which was good for getting into the mindset of an octogenarian. That and the gardening.

So let’s find out what I have to say about Iris…

blind assassin: early thoughts

zombie art inspired by the blind assassin

This is just what the doctor ordered. Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin has damn near everything anyone could ever want in a novel. Then some!

If you like drama, you’ll like the frame story of Iris, a bilious octogenarian, fallen from grace and urgently writing her memoir before her heart gives out. If you like intrigue/romance, you’ll like the novel within the frame, a thinly-veiled roman à clef left behind by Iris’s sister, Laura, of her love affair with the chimerical fugitive, Alex. If you like sci-fi/fantasy, you’ll love the novel within Laura’s semi-autobiography called -wait for it- The Blind Assassin, a gruesome thriller about blood-thirsty zombies on the planet Zycron, which Alex thrashes out with her in ‘installments’, by far the layer I can’t get enough of: The depiction of how the children become blinded and evolve into assassins is where I first felt fully engaged in the novel.

The stories are as self-contained as they are inter-connected, and paced to perfection. The language is simple and unpretentious, though some of the imagery eludes me: ‘as bird feels shadow’ p.21 and ‘hurt like history’ p.56 left me cold and confused, they broke the spell. And some of the names are too on-the-nose. Ygnirods? Come on! And I can’t figure out why Alex is so hot for Laura. But it’s still early days.

I’m really enjoying The Blind Assassin so far; it is gourmet chips and chocolate.

another book within a book

Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2000) has to jump queue, even though I haven’t finished At Swim-Two-Birds. It’s due back at the library on Wednesday with no more renews.

I’ve read the blurb, and am a bit annoyed it’s another nested narrative. That’s three in six from Lacayo and Grossman; they seem really taken with the technique. Personally, I’m exhausted from the mental gymnastics required to read another book like this. I need some literary M&Ms and nacho chips right now, not another dégustation.

Anyway, it sounds like quite an intriguing novel, and I’m very excited about reading it.


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*