After enjoying Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood on audio, I decided to try another of hers, so I picked up The Blind Assassin from my library.

About the Book:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (cover)Near the end of her life, Iris Chase Griffin has decided to set the record straight. She’s undertaken a memoir of sorts, the story of her life and the life of her sister, Laura Chase, noted local authoress. It’s a saga that spans many decades and includes love, duty, triumph, and heartbreak.

Iris’s story reads like a diary: chapters begin with her present situation (her weak heart, short walks around town, visits from a friend) and then fade into the past (her childhood as the daughter of a prominent manufacturer, her marriage, Laura’s doings). Here and there are newspaper announcements and articles from the society papers: birth and death announcements, news about the prominent Chase and Griffin families, gossip about the clothing worn by affluent women at exclusive gatherings. And woven through everything are chapters from The Blind Assassin, a novel published only after Laura’s untimely death.

But why is Iris writing this record of her life? What bearing does The Blind Assassin have on Iris’s tale?

My Thoughts:

As I started The Blind Assassin, I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep the different elements straight: Iris’s present life, her past, the newspaper clips, and the novel chapters. It didn’t take long for me to get used to the various pieces, though, and from then on I had no trouble keeping my place.

Iris is a lovely narrator. She has a way with words, a keen eye for observation, an obvious soft spot for her sister Laura. At times, she speaks directly to the reader; at others, she simply narrates her story. And what a story it is. The memoir Iris is writing spans from her earliest memories as a young, naive little girl to the end of her life as a woman in her 80s. It’s a lot of ground to cover.

As Iris’s story proceeds, alternating with chapters of The Blind Assassin (the novel within the novel), the bits of overlap between the two are obvious, and it becomes clear that the novel has some basis in reality. The interplay between supposed memoir and fiction was rather fascinating as one detail morphed into another and one event occurred in both places with only minor alterations. The characters in the novel remain nameless, yet it doesn’t take much guesswork to reach an assumption about their identities.

I loved this novel. I found Iris’s life enthralling, her narration charming, her gradually revealed motives fascinating. She is someone I wish I’d known, the sort of character with whom I’d like to sit down and chat. The way in which she brings all the stray pieces together at the novel’s end surprised and delighted me. And then there is some elusive something about The Blind Assassin, some air of mystery or enchantment, that I cannot name but also loved.

I listened to Margot Dionne read The Blind Assassin. Her voice was lovely and soft, articulate but understated, perfect for Iris. Dionne altered her style depending on which component she was reading, so that Iris, the newspaper articles, and The Blind Assassin chapters each had its own subtly distinguished voice. Though the audiobook was 18 hours long (making it the longest audiobook I’ve ever tackled), I never lost interest. I’m glad I chose to listen to this novel and would highly recommend the audiobook to anyone interested.

Your Turn!

Have you ever read a novel that included another novel within it? If so, what did you think?

And also…if you’re a fan of Margaret Atwood, what should I read next? So far I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale and The Penelopiad and listened to Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and The Blind Assassin. I’ve heard The Robber Bride is good. Any suggestions?

Join the Conversation


    1. From the other comments it sounds like this one is equally good in print. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts!

  1. Cat’s Eye and The Robber Bride are two of my favorite Atwoods. Alias Grace is the only one I’ve listened to, but the audio was well done. Will get to The Blind Assassin eventually.

    1. I actually have Cat’s Eye! The Robber Bride and Alias Grace seem to be favorites, so I’ll definitely be picking from one of those three, I think.

  2. Oh, I’m so glad to hear that the narrator used techniques to distinguish between different segments. I tried listening to Dolores Claiborne on tape and had no luck because it kept jumping back and forth in time and it seemed like the disc itself was skipping instead!

    One of my favorite Atwoods (and this is coming from someone who does not universally love everything she’s done) is Cat’s Eye. It’s a very insightful look into the relationships of girls and women, and I think it plays to her strengths. Also, if you liked Oryx & Crake, you will probably enjoy its follow-up, Year of the Flood.

    1. I was really impressed with how well the narrator distinguished the different parts. It wasn’t like she made her voice exeremely different; it was just subtle shifts, but she was very clear and consistent, I thought.

      I actually have Cat’s Eye sitting on the shelf (the only one I own but haven’t read), so maybe I’ll pick that one up next. I did listen to Year of the Flood and loved it!

  3. Just stumbled upon your site via Twitter, and I am definitely going to be coming back! I haven’t read any Atwood, although I randomly inherited the Blind Assassin from an eccentric hairdresser and have the Penelopiad on my TBR. Also, I just saw that you are reading A Suitable Boy and Reading Lolita in Tehran. I just got both of those books and am excited to get started. I’m looking forward to reading what you think of them!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, LL! I really liked both The Blind Assassin and The Penelopiad, though I did like The Blind Assassin a bit more. Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong. A Suitable Boy is kind of stalled right now for me. I’m supposed to be reading it with my sister, but we both got busy and it has kind of fallen by the wayside. Reading Lolita in Tehran, though, I hope to finish in the next week or two. I’ll look forward to seeing what you think of them as well!

    1. I think difficulty at the beginning is a pretty universal experience with this one! Sounds like everyone ended up liking it, though, and I’m glad you did too.

  4. Glad to hear that the audio book was enjoyable. Hope to tackle this one in 2011. Great review

  5. I can’t tell you how much I ADORE Margaret Atwood and her writing (as many other feminists feel the same way). I’ve only read The Blind Assassin and it is probably one of my favorite books. I love the structure of it, the characters, the pace, etc. And I’m glad you enjoyed the audio version–sometimes it can make or break a novel, but Margot Dionne proved to do a splendid performance.

    1. I can see why Atwood would be a feminist favorite! The Blind Assassin was the first of hers I’ve read that was more historical fiction than futuristic, and I hope to read more like it.

  6. MY reading group has read both ‘The Blind Assassin’ and ‘Oryx and Crake’ in the last year and though we loved ‘The Blind Assassin’ we didn’t think much of ‘Oryx and Crake’. As a consequence I haven’t tried anything else, so I shall be interested to see what other people recommend for you.

    1. Atwood seems to have two different types of novels: those like The Blind Assassin (more like straight fiction) and those like Oryx and Crake (more of a futuristic, dystopian slant). Most of what I’ve read of hers has been in the second group, and I’m interested now to read more from the first. They’re certainly quite different from one another!

    1. I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale — it was the first Atwood I read — though it wasn’t my favorite. It seems, though, like all her books are good!

  7. Aarti and I have been talking about this one as a joint read for quite some time now, and I am excited about it! It sounds like it was Atwood at her best, and I am looking forward to getting the chance to experience it for myself. Thanks for the awesome review on this one. I know it’s going to be a fun read for us!

  8. I read The Blind Assassin several years ago and had a reaction similar to yours. I thought Iris was wonderful and her story was captivating. Once I got into the rythm of the book I had no trouble following the different parts and thought Atwood did a greta job setting it all out. You’ve reminded me what an accomplished author she is and that it’s been too long since I read something by her.

    My suggestions for your next book: The Handmaid’s Tale or The Cat’s Eve, they’re both very good.

    1. I think getting into the rhythm is definitely key. You just have to stick with it until things fall into place! I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, but I haven’t read The Cat’s Eye, which I do own. Thanks for the recommendations!

    1. Alias Grace and The Cat’s Eye seem to be getting the most votes. They’re both definitely going onto the list. Thanks for the suggestion!

  9. I love this book too! You are braver than me for listening to it on audio… I’d be scared to death of getting hopelessly lost, as it’s a challenging novel even in print! I’m glad that didn’t end up being a problem, though!

    As for what to read next, my absolute favourite of hers is Alias Grace, so my vote goes for that.

    1. The reader really was fantastic. I didn’t even think about how complicated the book was until I got to the end and tried to summarize it. It’s amazing what an impact the reader can have on an audiobook! Alias Grace certainly seems to be popular. That and Cat’s Eye…onto the list they go 🙂

  10. I loved this book to pieces. I think it was my top read of 2010 for exactly the reasons you mentioned – loved Iris, wanted to hang out, and found the different storytelling fascinating.

    I loved The Robber Bride almost as much, and have Alias Grace on my TBR. My book club is reading The Edible Woman this month, too.

    1. Oh, I think I remember your review of The Robber Bride! In fact, I think the book is on my TBR list because of it. So many good ones to choose from, it sounds like! Enjoy The Edible Woman — I’ll be curious to hear what you think of it.

  11. If you have enjoyed all the ones you’ve read so far, I don’t think you can make a wrong turn in choosing your next. Even her earlier novels, although they seem more straightforward, are very rewarding reads and stand up well across the reading years. And if you’re looking for something shorter, you could look to her essays and poems (even if you don’t usually read poetry, say The Door). Your review, and all the comments here with varied enthusiasms, have left me in the mood for some MA re-reading!

    1. That’s good to know! I don’t think I mind straightforward. Atwood is such a great writer that I imagine straightforward is quite enjoyable. I knew she wrote essays and short stories, but I didn’t realize she wrote poetry as well!

      1. Oh, it’s great! Random titles from The Door: “Owl and Pussycat, some years later”, “Ten o’clock news”, “Year of the Hen”, “Saint Joan of Arc on a postcard” and “White cotton T-shirt”. You’ll be tempted to gobble them!

        1. It sounds wonderful! In particular, Owl and Pussycat, some years later…what a great title. Thanks for the recommendation!

  12. I love Margaret Atwood’s writing, but when I’ve tried to read The Blind Assassin in print I haven’t been able to get past the first few pages. It’s good to hear that the audio is outstanding; I’ll have to try it in that format and see if it works better for me.

    1. I was really pleased by how well Dionne did the audio version. I think there are several versions out there, so I’d definitely recommend finding Dionne’s version. I didn’t even think about the fact that it should have been confusing until almost after the fact!

  13. I’m trying Oryx & Crake this year … and the flood one that follows. Glad this worked for you.

    The only books I read that I can think of that had novels in novels was “The Hour I First Believed” by Wally Lamb (and I would have CUT IT) and “The World According to Garp” by John Irving … but I may be misremembering that.

    1. I hope you like them! I really enjoyed the pair. Are you reading, or listening?

      I have both The Hour I First Believed and The World According to Garp, but I haven’t read either (surprise!). I didn’t realize they are (or might be) books within books — very interesting!

  14. I admit, I haven’t read all your post — just the first sentences in each paragraph — because I haven’t read this yet. I have it on my shelf. I am glad to know you liked it and I should give it a try. I wasn’t crazy about THE HANDMAID’S TALE but this does sound very intriguing.

    1. The Blind Assassin is very different from The Handmaid’s Tale, so definitely give it a shot! I hope you enjoy Blind Assassin more than you did the other.

  15. I really loved this book as well and think about it more fondly as the years have gone on then I think I did when I finished! Definitely had me hooked. I might try to find the audio version–do you get most of your books from the library or online?

    I enjoyed Robber Bride and Cat’s Eye, though neither as much as Handmaid’s Tale or this one. I’ve heard Alias Grace is really good but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Really want to read Penelopiad after reading Odyssey last year!

    1. I borrow most of my audiobooks from the library, either as actual CDs or as downloaded audiobooks. is indispensable, though, for testing out readers before I request the book from the library.

      It sounds like Robber Bride, Cat’s Eye, or Alias Grace should be my next one, based on the responses here. I think I have Cat’s Eye, so maybe it’ll be that one. I’d like to reread The Handmaid’s Tale — it was the first Atwood I read, and I read it a while ago. If you like her dystopian stuff, you might like Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. They’re both really good on audio.

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