Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Book Review: 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood

I'm compelled to write a review on this book because it confused me so. The Blind Assassin is a novel within a novel within a novel (did I get them all?): there are many layers of narrative all of which come together to solve on big mystery: what happened to Laura Chase?

What I liked: 

Laura is protagonist Iris' little sister, who (you find out on the blurb) died young in a car accident. This mystery element is interesting: you're given a lot of information at the beginning of the novel, almost like a dump, and then for the rest of the novel you're trying to work out why these events happened. It's interesting to act as detective, even when dealing with Iris' own narrative. 

Both Laura and Iris are interesting characters, and both are very much mysteries. Whilst you think you know Iris when she gives her first person narrative, it becomes very clear and time goes on that you as the reader really don't know her at all. Iris is much cleverer than she pretends to be: she talks a lot about her lack of education as a child, but her thoughts and prose are quite developed. Laura is similarly enigmatic: she is a character to be figured out, and her motivations are never entirely clear. 

I liked that Atwood respects her reader and their intelligence: she doesn't just feed you information, but leaves you to work it out for yourself. A clever aspect is her use of inter-textual bits, such as newspaper articles, for verisimilitude, which aid the reader but aren't over obvious signposts. It is a difficult feat to pull off, and the fact that you are- well, I was- still satisfied by the mystery says a lot for Atwood's writing. 

What I disliked: 

My problems came from one of the other narratives. Layer number one is Iris' perspective. Layer number two is excerpts from Laura's novel, The Blind Assassin. Layer three is excerpts from a fictional text- I think it's a graphic novel or comic- that a character in The Blind Assassin writes. Layers one and two I found interesting and enthralling: layer two again adds to the mystery element because no characters are named and it is told in the third person. The third layer just confused me: it was a science-fiction narrative, and I had no idea why it was there. Maybe it was because I'm not a particularly huge fan of sci-fi, I just didn't enjoy it. By the end, I flicked over these pages. I thought a synopsis of the text could have sufficed if it had to be included. Because of this extra, I felt that the text was overlong. 

Would you recommend? 

Yes, I think so. It's a great mystery with a really satisfying ending. But be prepared for a long read, and a bit of effort. 

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