Review Wednesday | Book Review- The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin

‘“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura’s death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth century history, The Blind Assassin is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal.’

The Blind Assassin is the first Margaret Atwood novel I’ve read. I’d heard rave reviews for The Handmaid’s Tale and The Heart Goes Last, but nothing of The Blind Assassin. It had been sat on the bookshelf in my conservatory for a long time, but I’d thought nothing of it until recently – what a mistake that was.

The Blind Assassin had me hooked from very early on in the story. While Dune, a novel of similar length, had me struggling to get even half way through in weeks (and I’ve still not picked it up again), I finished this book in five days.

The book is split into several view points and narratives. There are often newspaper clippings, invitations and other forms of literature among the text, placing the part of the story in a time and showing a more general perspective before Iris discusses details. The central narrative is that of Iris writing a sort of memoir-cum-letter to her descendents. There is also another narrative, showing extracts of ‘The Blind Assassin’, the revered novel by Laura Chase, which was posthumously published. The novel in the novel is about a couple meeting in secret, and sharing a story about an alien planet – a story in a story in a story.

The main narrative reminds me of The House I Loved in many ways – Iris is an elderly woman writing her life story, much like Rose Bazelet, and often the writing feels similar, despite being set in completely different eras. Both stories lead up to end of life revelations, of similar natures. They differ, however, in what they’re centred around. Iris is mostly focused on Laura’s death, while Rose’s letter to her husband is largely about their home. Iris’ viewpoint, therefore, is often a lot broader –she explores the entire world around her and her sister, rather than centring her story on her own house and street.

The brief explanations I offer here may sound vague and confusing, but this is far from the effect that Atwood’s own words achieve. Atwood manages to write clearly and steer the story incredibly well, even in the most hectic and confusing aspects. While the climax is fast paced and information-heavy, it somehow remains enjoyable. Iris and Atwood both remain calm and clearly know what they’re doing with the text. The result of this is a remarkable novel, full of twists, humour, sadness and mystery. My first foray into the world of Margaret Atwood certainly won’t be my last.

See you soon,

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Book Review – The House I Loved

‘Rose Bazelet is determined to fight against the destruction of her family home until the very end; as others flee, she stakes her claim in the basement of the house on rue Childebert, ignoring the sounds of change that come closer and closer each day. Attempting to overcome the loneliness of her daily life, she begins to write letters to Armand, her late husband. As Rose delves into her memories, she reveals the secrets held within the walls of her beloved house.’

The House I Loved is set in Paris, 1869, towards the end of Napoleon III’s reign and the height of Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s ‘Renovation of Paris’.  The renovations saw whole neighbourhoods in central Paris demolished and rebuilt in line with Haussmann’s designs. Tatiana de Rosnay’s novel centres around one particular road, the rue Childebert – now part of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Her protagonist, Rose Bazelet, lives on rue Childebert, in her late husband’s family home.

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Taken from the front of the book.

The novel is written in the form of an extensive letter, written by Rose to her late husband Armand. Rose is an elderly woman who is set in her ways and is incredibly attached to her home. She sees it as the last link she has to her late husband and beloved mother in law. She often reminisces about happier times, but ends up delving into dark, repressed memories of the house and her life.

Before I read it, I wasn’t sure about this book. While the time period and location seemed interesting, a closed setting such as the basement and the style of writing the book as a letter/series of letters is restricting and been done a lot. I found myself fortunately mistaken in many ways, but I did find it predictable in many ways. It is the kind of novel that you predict the ending of from the start of the novel. Although the story does go off into many tangents, these can also be easily predicted. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in small doses, but I managed to predict large portions of the novel, when I’d much rather be surprised in at least some small way.

Despite this, it was an enjoyable and emotional read. For historical fiction, it was easy to read but informative. If I could go back, I’d have read up on the context a bit beforehand – I knew nothing about it, and while the novel does explain it well I find that when reading historical fiction I prefer to know at least a small amount about the context in order to fully understand it. Tatiana de Rosnay does provide a good level of context and the text was easy to understand without knowing anything else about the time period.

See you soon,

Ro x