The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood Rothdas book review RSS
3.0 Stars

I came to this book with high hopes. The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize, and when I think of Booker Prizes I think of Iris Murdoch's wonderful _The Sea, The Sea_. Unfortunately, Atwood is not quite an Iris, and I don't think The Blind Assassin is of the same order of magnitude as Iris' works.

In terms of pure writing style, Atwood is never less than perfectly competent, and she does a good job with description, character, dialog, and occasional dry or biting humor. The writing isn't as brilliant as something like _A Stranger in Olandria_, but it is descriptive and readable and quite skillful. I particularly liked her biting notes to literary critics and thesis students. Nabokov had a similar talent; I get the feeling that authors spend a lot of mental energy composing these rejoinders. :)

The setting and plotting and structure of the novel were less agreeable to me. The book is somewhat dreary. Most of it is set in a small Canadian town around 1910-1950, and the primary narrator is a poor and elderly and regretful lady of that town. So, already the setting is pretty damn depressing, especially if you hate snow and ice and cold like I do. The plot is similarly grim. I don't want to spoil too much, but it's a bit like if Sansa and Arya were both captured by the Lannisters, and then lived with the Lannisters for a couple of decades, and then an elderly Sansa started writing her memoirs. Except that in that case there would at least be a lot of plotting and intrigue over the decades. In the Blind Assassin, there really is not that much plot going on. I feel like I could cover all of the major plot developments in 2-3 sentences, which is a problem when a book is 500+ pages long. One of the reasons this relatively simple plot stretches on for so long is the structure of the novel. The novel is told through 4 interleaved threads. One thread is the thoughts of an elderly Sansa in the present day (1990's), one thread is her reminisces of growing up (1910's-1940's), and then the other 2 threads are from an in-universe book, also called _The Blind Assassin_. The in-universe book is divided into 2 threads, one thread being a novelization/mirror of crucial "real life" events in the 1930's, the other thread being a Conan-style fantasy novel called, you guessed it, The Blind Assassin. So you have 4 threads, but the main plot is only moved along by 2 of them, and those two threads are in large part repeating/mirroring themselves. Maybe I was too unobservant to fully appreciate how the threads interacted with and supported each other, but to me it seemed like there were really 3 stories here, any one of which might have been fine, but when mashed together often slowed down and interrupted each other. As a final and hugely insensitive criticism, I would say that reading this reminded me a bit of reading some of Shakespeare's stories. You understand that the times and ideas were different, but you can't help thinking that man, if they could just abandon some of their meta-physical super structure and other bad ideas about how the world should work, they could have avoided a lot of trouble/death, and dealt with things in a much more sensible manner. Or to put it another way, if their education had only included the complete works of Iris Murdoch, they could have gone about their idealism much more effectively.

So! That is that. I actually liked the in-universe fantasy novel that Atwood created, and would have gladly read a full version of that. I also would have enjoyed an abbreviated, maybe 250 page version of the main plot line. Even the cynical and elderly Sansa would have been ok on her own. The amalgamated story line though was less than the sum of its parts, and it really only makes it to 3 stars on the solid strength of Atwood's writing.