I don’t remember exactly why I picked up a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin; I don’t remember exactly when I purchased it. Sometime in high school, I know that much, since it was bought at a local bookstore that is now sadly defunct. But I’ve read it, as per the title, at least ten times by now. Possibly more, but I don’t keep perfect count.
5. There is always something new to notice.
This is true of most everything I read over (or watch over, or listen over) again, but it’s especially extra-true of this book. I think some of the details went over my head the first few times largely because I was a naive high schooler who didn’t look for such things, and that’s silly of me, but some of the details are just subtle. It’s just so nicely pieced together and layered extremely. And really, it’s a dark book, but it gets darker every time. And I like that too.
4. I like period pieces that aren’t too period-y.
I think the fact that I enjoy old-timey aesthetic has been mentioned many times. But nothing is more frustrating than overdone or stereotypical old-timey aesthetic; this is why I don’t like those saloon girls in Westerns wearing brightly colored satin with black fringe, this is why I don’t like it in historically-set pieces when the characters routinely make jokes like “wow, a whole dollar, that sure is expensive!” This book is good at seeming old-fashioned without seeming trite; I’m actually fairly sure that the fact that it’s set in Canada during the Great Depression and World War II instead of being set in America helps me personally, because it references customs and historical events that I’m less aware of, being not Canadian and all. It’s easy to imagine, but it gets imagined properly, not in garish cartoon form.
3. I like the narrator a whole lot.
Iris Chase is a fascinating character. On the first couple of reads, she struck me as kind of blank slated, but in more recent reads, I’ve realized what a brilliant tactical effort that was. Iris is someone who does not fight back with fists and rarely with words; she tends to rely more on quiet, deliberate actions done with politesse and determination. She acknowledges her own faults and flaws as a person, a sister, a mother, a wife, a lover, whatever, but given the structure of the book, there’s no need to be anything but honest. She’s as reliable as any first-person narrator can be, which is to say not 100% given the editorial effect of memory, but she tries her hardest. She points out that sometimes she was naive, sometimes she was rash, sometimes she didn’t do the right thing, and that makes me trust her more.
2. The novel-within-a-novel.
This is for two reasons: one which I will discuss in the next point, and one which is… I just really love pulp fiction okay. I love, again, the aesthetic of it. I recognize that it is hugely problematic in many ways, but I love that it is so trashy. And having the whole “writing the pulp in the story” aspect helps give further background to it, which is awesome.
1. The overall structure of the novel.
Ugh, I love differently-structured things. I am not a style-over-substance type, I need plenty of substance, but if you can do the substance in a way that isn’t singular first/third person linear narrative, power to you. And I love the first person retrospective linear/actual pulp novel/newspaper clippings potpourri that make up the structure of this book so much. It’s one of the reasons I like Iris’ narration, since having the newspaper’s factual (or slantedly factual) accounts of things makes it easier to back her stories up or see them straight, and having the novel-within-the-novel to counterbalance what goes on in the real world adds to the intrigue.
–your fangirl heroine.