The Blind Assassin

Mass Market Paperback | September 11, 2001

byMargaret Atwood

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Winner of the Booker Prize 2000, The Blind Assassin is a spellbinding novel that spans the decades between the First World War and the present, offering the sweep of an epic and the intimate focus of a family drama.

For the past twenty-five years, Margaret Atwood has written works of striking originality and imagination. In The Blind Assassin, she stretches the limits of her accomplishments as never before, creating a novel that is entertaining and profoundly serious.

The novel opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister Laura's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura's story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a- novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.

Told in a style that magnificently captures the colloquialisms and clichés of the 1930s and 1940s, The Blind Assassin is a richly layered and uniquely rewarding experience. The novel has many threads and a series of events that follow one another at a breathtaking pace. As everything comes together, readers will discover that the story Atwood is telling is not only what it seems to be—but, in fact, much more.

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From the Publisher

Winner of the Booker Prize 2000, The Blind Assassin is a spellbinding novel that spans the decades between the First World War and the present, offering the sweep of an epic and the intimate focus of a family drama.For the past twenty-five years, Margaret Atwood has written works of striking originality and imagination. In The Blind As...

Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa in 1939, and grew up in northern Quebec and Ontario, and later in Toronto. She has lived in numerous cities in Canada, the U.S., and Europe. She is the author of more than forty books — novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history, and books for children. Atwood’s work is acclaime...

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Format:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:672 pages, 6.85 × 4.17 × 1.43 inPublished:September 11, 2001Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0770428827

ISBN - 13:9780770428822

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Extra Content

Read from the Book

The BridgeTen days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.I was informed of the accident by a policeman: the car was mine, and they'd traced the licence. His tone was respectful: no doubt he recognized Richard's name. He said the tires may have caught on a streetcar track or the brakes may have failed, but he also felt bound to inform me that two witnesses—a retired lawyer and a bank teller, dependable people—had claimed to have seen the whole thing. They'd said Laura had turned the car sharply and deliberately, and had plunged off the bridge with no more fuss than stepping off a curb. They'd noticed her hands on the wheel because of the white gloves she'd been wearing.It wasn't the brakes, I thought. She had her reasons. Not that they were ever the same as anybody else's reasons. She was completely ruthless in that way."I suppose you want someone to identify her," I said. "I'll come down as soon as I can." I could hear the calmness of my own voice, as if from a distance. In reality I could barely get the words out; my mouth was numb, my entire face was rigid with pain. I felt as if I'd been to the dentist. I was furious with Laura for what she'd done, but also with the policeman for implying that she'd done it. A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water."I'm afraid there will be an inquest, Mrs. Griffen," he said."Naturally," I said. "But it was an accident. My sister was never a good driver."I could picture the smooth oval of Laura's face, her neatly pinned chignon, the dress she would have been wearing: a shirtwaist with a small rounded collar, in a sober colour-navy blue or steel grey or hospital-corridor green. Penitential colours—less like something she'd chosen to put on than like something she'd been locked up in. Her solemn half-smile; the amazed lift of her eyebrows, as if she were admiring the view.The white gloves: a Pontius Pilate gesture. She was washing her hands of me. Of all of us. What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain. Or of the stack of cheap school exercise books that she must have hidden that very morning, in the bureau drawer where I kept my stockings, knowing I would be the one to find them.When the policeman had gone I went upstairs to change. To visit the morgue I would need gloves, and a hat with a veil. Something to cover the eyes. There might be reporters. I would have to call a taxi. Also I ought to warn Richard, at his office: he would wish to have a statement of grief prepared. I went into my dressing room: I would need black, and a handkerchief.I opened the drawer, I saw the notebooks. I undid the crisscross of kitchen string that tied them together. I noticed that my teeth were chattering, and that I was cold all over. I must be in shock, I decided.What I remembered then was Reenie, from when we were little. It was Reenie who'd done the bandaging, of scrapes and cuts and minor injuries: Mother might be resting, or doing good deeds elsewhere, but Reenie was always there. She'd scoop us up and sit us on the white enamel kitchen table, alongside the pie dough she was rolling out or the chicken she was cutting up or the fish she was gutting, and give us a lump of brown sugar to get us to close our mouths. Tell me where it hurts, she'd say. Stop howling. Just calm down and show me where.But some people can't tell where it hurts. They can't calm down. They can't ever stop howling.The Toronto Star, May 26, 1945Questions Raised at the DeathSpecial to the StarA coroner's inquest has returned a verdict of accidental death in last week's St. Clair Ave. fatality. Miss Laura Chase, 25, was travelling west on the afternoon of May 18 when her car swerved through the barriers protecting a repair site on the bridge and crashed into the ravine below, catching fire. Miss Chase was killed instantly. Her sister, Mrs. Richard E. Griffen, wife of the prominent manufacturer, gave evidence that Miss Chase suffered from severe headaches affecting her vision. In reply to questioning, she denied any possibility of intoxication as Miss Chase did not drink.It was the police view that a tire caught in an exposed streetcar track was a contributing factor. Questions were raised as to the adequacy of safety precautions taken by the City, but after expert testimony by City engineer Gordon Perkins these were dismissed.The accident has occasioned renewed protests over the state of the streetcar tracks on this stretch of roadway. Mr. Herb T. Jolliffe, representing local ratepayers, told Star reporters that this was not the worst mishap caused by neglected tracks. City Council should take note.The Blind Assassin. By Laura Chase.Reingold, Jaynes & Moreau, New York, 1947Prologue: Perennials for the Rock GardenShe has a single photograph of him. She tucked it into a brown envelope on which she'd written clippings, and hid the envelope between the pages of Perennials for the Rock Garden, where no one else would ever look.She's preserved this photo carefully, because it's almost all she has left of him. It's black and white, taken by one of those boxy, cumbersome flash cameras from before the war, with their accordion-pleat nozzles and their well-made leather cases that looked like muzzles, with straps and intricate buckles. The photo is of the two of them together, her and this man, on a picnic. Picnic is written on the back, in pencil-not his name or hers, just picnic. She knows the names, she doesn't need to write them down.They're sitting under a tree; it might have been an apple tree; she didn't notice the tree much at the time. She's wearing a white blouse with the sleeves rolled to the elbow and a wide skirt tucked around her knees. There must have been a breeze, because of the way the shirt is blowing up against her; or perhaps it wasn't blowing, perhaps it was clinging; perhaps it was hot. It was hot. Holding her hand over the picture, she can still feel the heat coming up from it, like the heat from a sun-warmed stone at midnight.The man is wearing a light-coloured hat, angled down on his head and partially shading his face. His face appears to be more darkly tanned than hers. She's turned half towards him, and smiling, in a way she can't remember smiling at anyone since. She seems very young in the picture, too young, though she hadn't considered herself too young at the time.

Bookclub Guide

1. Discuss the intricate structure of this novel and the methods Atwood used to construct it.2. Atwood writes in three different forms in The Blind Assassin: memoir (Iris's telling of her story), fiction (Laura's novel), and science fiction (the story within that novel). Comment on the similarities and differences of these forms as shown in this novel.3. In the science fiction story, we're told that it is a saying among the child slave carpet weavers that "only the blind are free" (p. 22). Discuss this and its significance to the title of the novel.4. Iris notes, "Some people can't tell where it hurts. They can't calm down. They can't ever stop howling" (p. 2). Who howls loudest and longest in this novel and why?5. Water, rivers, ice, rock gardens, rain, snow, trees-the natural world plays an important role in this novel. Talk about these images and their meanings.6. Discuss the significance of keys, locks, and doors in the different parts of the novel.7. Discuss those moments where the story flashes forward with information that you don't realize will be key until later. How does this heighten the suspense? Discuss other moments of discovery, of epiphany. Are they the same for all readers?8. Talk about the theme of betrayal and guilt in this novel. Has everybody in this novel betrayed somebody?9. The story of the Depression, the Red scare, and the upsurge of union activity in Canada are all key parts of this novel. Discuss the merging of the personal and the political in the Chase family and in the novel by Laura Chase.10. About the readers of Laura's novel, Iris says: "They wanted to finger the real people in it...They wanted real bodies, to fit onto the bodies conjured up for them by words" (p. 40). Are readers inclined to try to match a work of fiction with an author's life? Discuss the danger in doing so, as evidenced in this novel.11. In this book, the role of mothering often falls on women who are not, technically, mothers. Discuss the different ways that Reenie and Winifred fill that role. Discuss missing mothers as a theme in the novel.12. We see Iris in this novel as a young girl, a young woman, an old woman. Talk about the different ways you feel toward her at different points in her life.13. Laura paints Iris's face blue in a photograph because, she says, Iris is "asleep" (p. 195). Do you agree? Does Iris wake up? How?14. Of their father, Laura tells Iris, "He didn't try hard enough-Don't you remember what he used to say? That we'd been left on his hands, as if we were some kind of a smear" (p. 383). Discuss Norval Chase's role in the book-his relationship with his brothers, his wife, his daughters, his button-factory workers.15. Is there anything redeeming about Richard? Who fared worst at his hand?16. Iris says that "The living bird is not its labeled bones" (p. 395). Talk about the writer's challenge to deliver truth. Does the truth reside in what's left out?17. Discuss the significance of color, or the absence of it, in the novel.

Editorial Reviews

"Stories spin within stories in this spellbinding novel of avarice, love, and revenge. . . . [Atwood's] metaphorical descriptions, and elegant characterizations are breathtaking in their beauty and resonance."—Booklist (U.S.) (starred review)

"Boldly imagined and brilliantly executed."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)