Who is the Blind Assassin in Atwood ‘ s 2000 Booker winner ?

downloadWith the Booker nomination for Testaments , I picked up The Blind Assassin as my first read for my Booker project . Dystopia is not my genre and so I didn’t pick up The Handmaid ‘ s Tale . Now , I guess I have to give a shot at dystopia too with The Testaments ‘  split – win . . .

Plot summary :

Iris Griffen – Chase , the narrator is reminiscing about her life until the suicide of her younger sister Laura at the age of 25 . Iris published Laura ‘ s The Blind Assassin posthumously which had its own repercussions for Iris .  Interspersed in Iris ‘s narrative are the chapters from Laura ‘ s scandalous debut`, where two illicit lovers amuse themselves during their secret trysts  by telling a story about the eponymous Blind Assassin . Through Iris ‘ s narrative and the narrative in TBA , we come to know about the Chase family and the secrets it holds today . . .

My thoughts on the book :

The title of the book intrigued me from the start . Why would Atwood name a book after a roman a clef in the  book was my question .  On the surface , there is no significance to the title beyond it being the title of Laura ‘ s book .  But as I read the book , a thought occurred whether the title might be a reference to one of the characters in the book . I wanted to identify the character for whom the possible – sobriquet title is the best fit . ( Am I getting the word correctly ? Or is it something else ? )

I did not have to look too far or read too much between the lines to identify  who The Blind Assassin  might be . My idea is that Iris Chase – Griffen , the octogenarian narrator is the best fit for the term The Blind Assassin , whose actions  inadvertently led to the demise of her sister Laura . While she herself recounts being blamed for her husband ‘ s death by her sister – in -law , she does not seem to recognize her role in her sister ‘ s death or if she does , she does not say anything to that effect . Perhaps she did not want to incriminate herself when there are several other external factors which also had a role in Laura ‘ s death . The latter scenario  is the most probable one .

But I would say ,  while there were other factors too ,  they would not have pushed Laura over the edge if only she had had a sympathetic elder sister to turn to in times of distress – at the very least , for moral support if not for anything else .

But Iris is not the typical ” the – second – mother ” elder sister that literature is often fond of portraying elder sisters as  –  she is somewhat of an antithesis to the above said elder sister .  And that is where the problem lies . Let me point out the instances when Iris could have redeemed the situation with some fundamental concern which  one stranger might show to another when he / she discerns some cause for it with the other ‘ s situation .

Any reader knowing Iris around page 100 or so , would know better than to expect more of her .

Iris has always known that Laura was not happy with her marriage to Griffen . Iris is always somewhat careful not to prod too deep into Laura ‘ s emotions afraid of what she might have to deal with , understandably given Laura ‘ s ” sensitive ” nature . But , one would expect her to lend atleast a sympathetic ear  when Laura turns to her for some comfort in times of distress  . While Iris seemingly does the above all , we get to read  about her true feelings underneath all those mandatory gestures  and it ‘ s somewhat sickening . Surely , can ‘ t a younger sister count upon a shoulder to lean on from the elder one ?

She cried then , and I put my arms around her , the time – worn gesture from when she was little  . Just stop howling . If I ‘d had a lump of brown sugar I would have given it to her , but we were past the brown – sugar stage by then . Sugar  was not going to help .

Some readers might say that Iris was not in a position to acknowledge the truth  in Laura ‘ s  words about their new life in the Griffen home and to act decisively about it  ( of which Iris says she did not realize the true colors of  Richard and Winifred  !!! ) .  While that argument can be accepted  to a certain extent , one cannot accept Iris ‘ callousness towards Laura ‘ s feelings and fears . We don ‘ t see several  such exchanges  ( forget confidences . . . ) between the sisters which is also indicative of  how close the sisters are. Perhaps , during the early days , following her father ‘ s death and subsequent removal to the Griffen house only Laura reached out to her more . But Iris ‘ response effectively stopped Laura from confiding in her . . .

What makes Iris ‘ negligence appalling is that she expects Laura to also be satisfied the same way she is satisfied with the new life – the riches , the balls , the high – society which their father ‘ s precarious finances and old – fashioned ways had not introduced them to . Now that she has got the money also to spend , along with the prominent family name , Iris ,is too busy enjoying her life . She never gives a thought to Laura ‘ s increasingly erratic behavior . It looked like she was satisfied handing over the responsibility of the guardianship of a younger sibling to anyone who would be willing to take it off her hands –  think about the meeting with the head mistress for instance . . .  We know how this arrangement played out in the Griffen household : with an unconcerned / pushover elder sister who is keen only in looking out for herself  ,  the Griffen siblings had the opportunity to dictate the aspects of Laura ‘ s life too much which they did . Remember the time , when Winifred decided that Laura can volunteer for the  organization which did hospital visits ? And the plans for the debut ?

But the scene which took this indifference a notch higher is the one Iris unquestioningly  accepts Richard ‘ s & Winifred ‘ s  words about what happened with Laura . Iris ‘ tears  when she gets the news of Laura ‘ s confinement seem to be like the tears of an actress playing a part of a damsel in distress  :  a few tears in the white handkerchief  , some sniffs and then nothing . If one remembers Iris ‘ s  mourning for her father , the tears for Laura can be seen as a huge improvement . [ If I remember correctly there were some questions about why Richard had concealed her father’s death from her and  there were no more once Richard gave his sugar-coated dismissive answers . ]

One would expect Iris to be more careful about what she tells Laura especially after her ordeal at the asylum . Iris ‘ s words indicate that even she saw the need but still she goes ahead and says the last thing that Laura would want to hear –  that her sacrifice was in vain . Those words sapped out any hope of a life she looked forward to ” after the war ”  and later , the same day , she drove the car off the bridge .

I have picked out only certain instances to illustrate my reasons for picking out Iris among all the characters for the dubious distinction of being the blind assassin .  If you pick up the book you are sure to pick out other scenes which drive home the point .

You would not need one more new reader of Atwood to come up with the same boring words – beautiful , intelligent to describe her writing .  Atwood ‘ s writing impressed me with the innovative narrative techniques like the newspaper articles , the graffiti , the roman a clef and a lot more .

And here are some of my favorite passages –

. . . Beginnings  are sudden , but also  insidious . They creep up on you sideways , they keep to the shadows , they lurk unrecognized . Then ,  later ,  they  spring .

. . . A lot of clothes  ,  the styles and colors outmoded now , shed butterflies ‘  wings . A lot of dinners , not always  very good ones . Breakfast , picnics ,  ocean voyages , costume balls ,  newspapers , boating on the river . Such items do not assort very well with tragedy . But in life , a tragedy is not one long scream . It includes  everything that led up to it . Hour after trivial hour , day after day , year after year , and then  the sudden moment : the knife stab , the shell-burst , the plummet of the car from the bridge . .  .

Drowned now –  the tree as well , the sky , the wind , the clouds . All  she has left is the picture . Also the story of it .  The  picture is of happiness , the story not . Happiness is a garden walled with glass : no  way in or out . In Paradise there are no stories , because there are no journeys . It ‘ s loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward , along its twisted road . 

If you have any thoughts on the above post , please do share them in the comments section below .

If you have not picked up the book , I would  urge you to pick up this book definitely . I hope the plot summary intrigued you sufficiently enough . . . If you had already read the book ,  what do you think of picking out Iris Chase – Griffen as the Blind Assassin ? Or do you have another character in the book who would be better suited for the sobriquet ?

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Is book-blogging-minus-book-reviews ruining book-blogging ?

imagesThe other day I read a book blogger’s musings about the very discouraging reader engagement for book reviews in contrast to non-review content which seems to have become almost a must-have to bring readers to your book blog in the first place . Otherwise , the book blogger might as well write in his / her  personal diary – forget about reader engagement with the content , the post does not get any clicks .

As several other book bloggers have pointed out repeatedly , today book blogs minus book reviews have become a trend . If they do have reviews , they are the some 5 or 6 lines about a book – the mini-reviews . Almost every review reads like the one before : ” It was unputdownable…” , ” I stopped in my tracks when I finally came to the big reveal – you would’ve have never seen it coming… ” . There are too many adjectives and adverbs in these mini-reviews  : ( almost ) nothing original but still there just to enforce upon the readers the intensity of the reviewer’s reactions , I think .

Mini reviews are somewhat okay but there is one book-blogging fad which I have not taken to ( & will never ) : the book-tags . I have never gotten the idea behind book tags . Somebody please enlighten me about putting out a list of books / writing about bookish elements which fit a particular tagline . You may identify your fandom tribe and can have gush about your favorite series all over again . That’s how far book-tags go for me . I haven’t picked up a single book yet after reading book tags .

In today’s blogosphere , with too many wannabe-writers / hobbyists competing with each other for the readers’ engagement with their content , it’s only natural that many book bloggers are turning to the easy-content-with-high-reader-engagement to bring in the numbers . I myself have put 2 compilation posts in this blog and vouch for it being a blog-saver : The blog was languishing and I was not reading much to review it here . At-least these recommendations posts let people know that I haven’t shut shop . Now , after 3 months of my first ever reading – slump , I am back .

But , I regretted each time I put out some filler content like that .

I don’t see mini-reviews / book tags / listicles ( basically , several of the recent fads in book-blogging culture ) as being of much value ( forget about the literary value ) to the readers . Sure , people may pick up books from your list but I believe that nothing can take the place of a proper book review – a review which dissects the various aspects of the book : the themes , the characterization , the plot , the storytelling . The in – depth reviews offer the reader / would-be reader an idea about what to look for in the book and encourage them to read better . The mini – reviews / book recommendation posts most often read like those blurbs written by the book’s promotion team – the blogger’s ultimate goal is to pique the reader’s interest . Still better , if they make them pick up that book . But , is it the purpose of blogging about books ? Aren’t the book bloggers supposed to be facilitating better reading of books by having discussions around the books they have read / full-fledged reviews about their reads ?

I believe that nothing can take the place of a proper book review – a review which dissects the various aspects of the book : the themes , the characterization , the plot , the storytelling . The in – depth reviews offer the reader / would-be reader an idea about what to look for in the book and encourage them to read better .

But , is making the readers pick up the book after reading your mini-reviews , the sole purpose of blogging about books ? Aren’t the book bloggers supposed to be facilitating better reading of books by having discussions around the books they have read / full-fledged reviews about their reads ?

As important influencers among the reading tribe , I think that every book blogger should ensure that their blogs carry more literary content than fad / filler content . As an analogy , while we are concerned about the quality of reporting these days with more of click-bait headlines ( basically all celeb stuff and all other fluff ) rather than THE IMPORTANT STUFF that make it to our online news-feed , let us also get concerned about the content our book blogs carry . Because , in this digital age of short attention-span / need for eye-ball grabbing stuff like GIF s to actually entice the readers into clicking the link to your post / availability of encyclopedic proportions of information on every random topic , giving the readers all this fad stuff would only further contribute to the growth this culture of mindless consumption of anything they read .

I think it is the time for the book-bloggers to remedy this mindless consumption by putting out content that would open the readers’ eyes to the various aspects of the book being reviewed and help them to identify these aspects in their own current reads . And , it won’t hurt the reader to read some proper reviews without all the distracting fluff like GIF s , memes . When readers get to read more quality content like good discussion posts / book reviews online , they would demand quality content every time , in turn making us book-bloggers  read better . Currently , our production of all these fluffy content has shaped their book-blogs’ experience , in turn forcing us to keep churning out more of this useless content and it definitely wouldn’t do for us to hold the reader accountable for the content we post on our blogs .

I think it’s high time that book bloggers had a good look at their content and ” fads ” they are encouraging .

As an analogy , while we are concerned about the quality of reporting these days  , with more of click-bait headlines ( basically all celeb stuff and all other fluff ) rather than THE IMPORTANT STUFF that make it to our online news-feed , let us also get concerned about the content our book blogs carry .

In this digital age of short attention-span / need for eye-ball grabbing stuff like GIF s to actually entice the readers into clicking the link to your post / availability of encyclopedic proportions of information on every random topic , giving the readers all this fad stuff would only further contribute to the growth this culture of mindless consumption .

Let me know your thoughts about this post in the comments section below . I would like to hear about what do you feel about the trend of book-blogging- minus-book-reviews? Are you taking to it well or are you like me ? Also share your thoughts on the book blogging elements I have termed as fads or fluff-content…