I am not having fun with Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin

Why is it we want so badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we’re still alive. We wish to assert our existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on bathroom walls. It’s all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause? Envy? Respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get? At the very least we want a witness. We can’t stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down.

I’m reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for Read Hard!, a Tumblr-based book club. I’ve never been inclined to read this book — hell, I’ve never been inclined to read Atwood. But now is as good a time as any, I guess. And, well, reading The Blind Assassin, I’m very much aware of how masterful the crafting is: A narrative within a novel within the actual novel. A sci-fi tale within a love story within a family saga. It’s admirable, even awe-inspiring.

Although, a part of me suspects Atwood wrote the “inner novel” separately, and no one wanted to publish it, har, and decided to put it inside a fat novel. [I did that once, in a short story. It didn’t work, mostly because I was too obvious.] And it’s this suspicion that prevents me from completely falling forward into the narrative[s]. That, and the fact that I just don’t like that “inner novel,” also called — confuzzlingly enough, thanks, Atwood — The Blind Assassin. I grit my teeth when the narrative breaks — Iris’ present + reminiscences — to make way for Laura’s posthumously published novel — I just don’t like the form used. I gnash said teeth when the characters in that novel digress to some sci-fi yarn to pass the time — I don’t like that genre.

I am a grouch. But I trudge on. Mostly because I really like Iris. And there are gems — see the quoted text above — that have me in awe of Atwood’s prose. At least, Atwood’s prose in the Iris context. Augh. I’m trying not to skip Laura’s sandwiched novel altogether, but it’s a struggle. It’s such a chore, for seriously.

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13 comments

  1. There is a character/narrator called Iris? Hm.. This makes me consider reading the book. I know, that is a crazy reason.

    1. Haha, I am occasionally tempted to read a book whose main character is named Sasha, so I completely understand. :]

  2. I rarely have fun with Atwood either. So, don’t worry if you don’t think she’s the best thing since sliced bread, because personally, I’d probably just take the bread (sliced or otherwise) and run for it.

    1. It’s such a childish rant, haha, saying “You are just a bore, Atwood.” But it’s too true. I doubt I’m going back to her anytime soon. I like her language occasionally, but there’s too much muddle!

  3. I actually enjoyed this book but preferred ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. But then, they are the only two I’ve read by her.

    1. Given my not-so-pleasant experiences with Atwood, I don’t think I’ll be reading her again anytime soon.

  4. Heh. Well, it could be that this book just isn’t for you. By the time I’d read it, she was solid on my list of Favourite Authors, so I hadn’t considered not finishing, but it did take me until about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through to truly understand some of the weaving that she had done structurally and thematically. (The story-in-the-story was definitely not a standalone work, but conceived as part of the whole, although that’s not clear until later, but I don’t want to say much more in case you do decide to finish it.) Nonetheless, could be a book-out-of-time for you, in which course forcing yourself to finish won’t likely lead to a happy ending either. ;) Good luck!

  5. I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood and I really, really loved it. I’d like to read more of her sometime, but perhaps not this one.

  6. I have this on my TBR — I own it and it’s been calling to me, so your “not having fun” title caught my attention. I was hoping it was a satisfying read….

  7. Ohmygoodness, FINALLY someone who doesn’t worship this book! I was not a fan at all, and I kid you not, I have NEVER seen a negative review of it on a book blog. I’m sure they exist, but I have yet to find one til now. So glad it’s you.

    1. I’m feeling a little vindicated knowing that you don’t like this either, haha. A part of me is cowed by how overwhelmingly positive the reactions to this book are. I mean, this is like Keeper Shelf Book for a lot of people out there. But we just did not get along!

  8. […] When I returned to the 218th page, after several days of avoiding the book — and a lot of whining thrown in — I was aghast and very much resentful that, apparently, I was yet to even reach the […]

  9. […] Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. [While Reading] [Post-Read […]

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