I haven’t made a habit of reposting my book reviews from book cataloging websites here (I now review everything I read for the first time.) However, I just finished reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. Now, I have read another book this good recently: I perused Mrs. Dalloway this Spring. However, I had been prepared for Mrs. Dalloway — everyone told me how fabulous that was. Everyone told me The Blind Assassin was good, but it blew me away.
I’ve already been an Atwood admirer for a few years, but The Blind Assassin is too gorgeous to merely admire. I love it. Where it isn’t exquisite, it’s precise. It moves expertly between the dry, the brutally truthful, and the passionate, and brings the keenness of the author’s eye to them all. Atwood describes both the elusive and the everyday with a transforming grace.
All that is merely on the level of prose, of paragraph. Her narrator is human, complex, and honest. The other characters are interesting, Laura chiefly so, of course, and I appreciate the way Iris acknowledges and interrogates her own inability to do others’ characters justice. I particularly appreciated the way that Atwood drew us into the book with the mystery of Laura, and then gradually made us (well, me, at any rate) fonder and fonder of Iris. A beautiful literary bait and switch.
All this and a compelling plot. Really, if I try to think of something wrong with this book, the first thing that swims to mind is that it’s more than a little intimidating to a young author. My consolation is that she was 61 when it was published. I still have some years to practice.
Here are some quotes from the book:
She stubs out her cigarette in the brown glass ashtray, then settles herself against him, ear to his chest. She likes to hear his voice this way, as if it begins not in his throat but in his body, like a hum or a growl, or like a voice speaking from deep underground. Like the blood moving through her own heart: a word, a word, a word.
Was this a betrayal, or was it an act of courage? Perhaps both. Neither one involves forethought: such things take place in an instant, in an eyeblink. This can only be because they have been rehearsed by us already, over and over, in silence and darkness; in such silence, such darkness, that we are ignorant of them ourselves. Blind but sure-footed, we step forward as if into a remembered dance.
You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together. But two and two doesn’t necessarily get you the truth. Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind. The living bird is not its labelled bones.