Posted by: Matt | July 19, 2007

Review of The Blind Assassin

The Blind AssassinThe Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood

Reason for Reading: I’ve read many great things about this book and Margaret Atwood. Also, my sister is an Atwood fan so I thought I’d take a look. This was one of my choices for the Book Awards Reading Challenge as well.

Quotes: “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…”

“It was as if the illuminated dome of the Royal York Hotel had been wrenched off and I was being stared at by a malign presence located somewhere above the black spangled empty surface of the sky. It was God, looking down with is blank, ironic searchlight of an eye.”


This is a story about two sisters, beginning in the early 20th century, told through two lines of narrative. One sister dies in the opening pages leaving the other to tell their story with the aid of a novel-within-the-novel. Only as the book closes do you fully understand the complex lives of these two.

The story was much different than I expected. I suppose it is because the descriptions I read did not go into much detail as it might spoil some of the novel. I did not expect a story so tragic, for that is the best word I can use to describe what happens to the two sisters. I am left to wonder how common it was in that time period for women to be in such lonely and helpless positions. I hope it is extremely extraordinary, though I have a feeling there are many similarities between the book and the lives of early 20th century women at the fringes of high society.

Atwood certainly knows how to write. Her prose is confident and the reader can tell she is comfortable. Whether describing surroundings, dealing out dialogue or giving direction she knows what she’s doing. That is something that was reinforced for me throughout my reading.

However, though the story was certainly very sad, there was for me a sort of disconnect. I knew that it was all very depressing and hopeless for the two sisters, yet at the same time I never felt very emotionally involved. It may be because of the smoothness with which Atwood writes. Or it could have been the personality of the older sister who narrates much of the story.

Even though I never felt completely involved, I did enjoy the novel and will most definitely be reading more. As I have said, Atwood is a terrific writer and I look forward to seeing what she can do with other subjects.

: 4.0



  1. I’m more amenable to trying this one out now. I too don’t know any of the details (I skipped any sentence I thought might be even kinda specific in your post 😉 ) which is how I like to get into books ideally. Feels more like an adventure.

  2. imani – With my reviews I really try not to give anything away, the one time I did I gave a good warning before doing so. I like to think you can read them worry free! And you’re right, it does feel more adventurous when you don’t know anything about the book first.

  3. I’m a bit naughty; I vent my thoughts on the plot, style etc. (usually I *try* not to give anything away, but it’s hard sometimes…)

    I haven’t read this for a long time, but I remember when I read it that it was the one that I liked the most from Atwood, for some reason.

  4. I agree with a lot of what you said here. I read THe Blind Assassin a few years ago and remember enjoying the writing style alot. Yes I remained so aloof from the story – I’d love to do some more thinking about why. Maybe time for a re-read?

  5. I read The Handmaid’s Tale recently and found it powerfully involving and very well written – so I’d suggest it as a further Atwood novel. I also loved Alias Grace which is just so accessible. I actually haven’t read The Blind Assassin because everyone I know who has remains rather unsure about its virtues. I will read it eventually, however.

  6. Hi, Matt

    I have always found Atwood difficult to read, but because her writing is so clever and her ideas so novel, I find myself plodding on and am always rewarded at the end. Because of my science background her books “Oryx and Crake”, “The Handmaid’s Tale” were very entertaining reads for me, but I have heard that “Alias Grace” is one of her better books. Thank you for a nice review.

  7. Siew Cooper – I really struggle writing a short synopsis without giving away too much, it’s tough.

    verbivore – The only reason I can think of at this point for feeling disconnected from the story is the narrator’s personality. Almost like she was in some way disconnected from her past, it was only at the end that I could really feel her emotion coming through.

    litlove – I actually have The Handmaid’s Tale as an alternate on my Book Awards Reading Challenge list, so I will be trying to get to that sometime soon. I just recently found out about Alias Grace, I’ll have to look into that one too.

    Lotus Reads – I’m probably going to be getting to Oryx and Crake as well, as I enjoy a good sci-fi read, it is sci-fi isn’t it? My sister has offered to lend it to me. Atwood’s writing is some of the more impressive I’ve read this year.

  8. I’ve always wanted to read some Atwood but I’ve never felt the desire to read The Blind Assassin. I’ve picked it up a few times but, always, I put it back down. But I read about Atwood’s The Penelopiad on Dewey’s blog The Hidden Side of the Leaf, and I just had to put it on my immediate TBR list. I think it’s a departure from what Atwood usually writes but it sounded right up my ally.

  9. I read it and enjoyed it, as I have all the Atwood books I have read. Still, it was probably my least favourite of the four novels of hers that I tried. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was slower paced than I cared for. Odd that this is the 2nd review of it that I’ve read today.

  10. J.S. Peyton – She actually seems to write about very different things from book to book. I like it when an author dabbles in lots of different themes. I’ve heard a lot about The Penelopiad but can’t decide whether I’m interested or not.

    John – It does have a kind of sedate pace to it, I look forward to reading more of her stuff. What are the other three novels by Atwood that you have read?

  11. Good review! I just recently read this as well, but I don’t have the review up yet. Didn’t much care for it, although I LOVED The Handmaid’s Tale. I correctly surmised many plot points, so maybe that was the reason I didn’t like it. My rating was 3.5. Rated The Handmaid’s Tale a 4.5.

  12. I have this on my list to read this year. I can’t wait!! I loved A Handmaid’s Tale!

  13. 3M – The next Atwood novel I read will likely be The Handmaid’s Tale, I’ve heard good things about it. It seems that maybe we were supposed to figure out the plot before the end, but I’m not positive.

    Stephanie – I am interested to see what you have to say about this after you read it!

  14. Oryx and Crake, The Handmaid’s Tale and Blind Assasin. Have you read any others?

  15. John – This was my first Atwood book, but I plan on reading The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake.

  16. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Atwood’s writing. It feels to me very crafted and planned, and I think she gives the reader what she wants you to know at her leisure. I do think she’ll just brilliant and look forward to what else she produces.

  17. Matt,
    I just discovered your site through semicolon and I loved your review. I am surprised you didn’t use the opening sentences of the book in your quotes, they totally hooked me right from the start, although I was already an Atwood fan. I first read The Handmaid’s Tale 20 years ago and it blew me away. I had not read anything else of hers before but I went to the library and quickly read several more of her books. She is a great writer and as you mentioned in the comments, she writes about very different things in each of her books. I highly recommend The Handmaid’s Tale, especially if you like science fiction. Another one I liked of hers was The Robber Bride. I haven’t read Alias Grace yet (it’s sitting on my bookshelf but somehow doesn’t tempt me yet), but I have never been disappointerd by anything of hers.

  18. tara – I think you’re right, as she certainly knows what she is doing in her writing. I will definitely be keeping my eye on her now that I’ve read one of her novels.

    Marina – Glad you found me! Sometimes I use the opening sentence as my quote, I usually try to pick something that really stands out to me in some way. I can definitely see how the opening sentence would work. I do enjoy sci-fi which is one reason I plan on reading The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake.

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