Back when I read Go Tell It On The Mountain, I said I enjoyed James Baldwin as a writer even more than his book. The plot, the characters—all of that was excellent—but when I finished the book, his writing left more of an impression on me than his story.
I have the same type of feeling about Margaret Atwood and The Blind Assassin. The story—or multiple stories—developed slowly and had a big payoff at the end. But Atwood’s writing knocked me off my feet. Literally. Like, I fell down after reading page 289. Okay, not literally. But, figuratively speaking, Atwood picked me up and threw me down a staircase.
Last week, I posted about how well she nailed the voice of Iris Chase—the 83-year-old narrator. Atwood manages to show wit, snarkiness, regret, humor, self-deprecation and unbelievable wisdom and insight through this one character. I might have underlined more passages in this novel than any of the first 24.
If you’ve read anything about The Blind Assassin, you’re probably aware that the novel is several stories in one—all of which eventually tie together. You’ve got the main storyline—which is really two stories in one—present day Iris Chase, living alone, and carrying the weight of her family’s history and her mistakes on her shoulders.
With the possible exception of Infinite Jest and Catch 22, The Blind Assassin might have more good one-liners than any of the first 24 books. But these aren’t just one-liners in the witty, Jay Leno, cue-the-snare-drum sense of the word.
Margaret Atwood can do that, though she’s much more funny than Jay Leno. But she can also pack an amazing amount of wisdom and insight into just a few words. The woman is gifted.
As a writer, Margaret Atwood is both profound and witty. I’ve found my blue pen has underlined sentences all throughout this book.
Some favorites (and there are many more):
One thing I really appreciate about The Blind Assassin: Margaret Atwood absolutely nailed the narrator’s voice.
Iris Chase is the narrator. She’s an 83-year-old lady who has opinions–lots of them. Opinions about how the kids are dressing these days, about the shape of women, about their ages, their fashion.
Now I’ve never been a grumpy old lady, nor do I plan on ever being a grumpy old lady, but Atwood’s portrayal of Iris Chase strikes me as dead-on–the stereotypical bridge-playing, opinionated, feisty female senior citizen.
This passage stood out to me and should give you a good idea of what I’m talking about:
Source: Vanwaffle/Wikimedia Commons
The most popular post in the nearly one-year history of this blog is, by far, Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules of Writing.
Since I’m currently reading through The Blind Assassin, perhaps Margaret Atwood’s most popular novel, I thought we’d take a look at her 10 rules of writing today. Atwood’s rules are a little more tongue-in-cheek than Franzen’s.
This list also comes from The Guardian:
Book #24: The Blind Assassin was your choice, by vote, last week. Atwood’s novel edged out Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury by a few votes.
I’ve never read a Margaret Atwood book, but I get the impression that she’s one of those writers who might come around once every generation.
Probably 90% of the authors on the Time list have passed on, but the cool thing about Atwood is that she is still alive, doing well, and still writing–even on Twitter!
From an awards and publicity standpoint, The Blind Assassin is probably Margaret Atwood’s most famous novel. Here are some quick facts: