"The Blind Assassin", by Margaret Atwood

(actualisé le ) by Ray

This was a rather disappointing book for the Atwood fan which I am, as I had been quite offput by an earlier (1985) Atwood book - The Handmaid’s Tale - which I had just finished reading, and I was hoping that this much more recent (2000) work would restore for me the image I have had of her for quite some time now as not only a master craftsman (whoops, I meant to say craftswoman), but also and especially as a powerful storyteller who can scale some impressive heights.

So I did find this rather hard slogging in a mental sort of way, although it did I must admit take me less than a week to get though this rather weighty work (521 pages). I suppose the story was well told, in a crisp recognizable Atwood way, but the main character - a woman of course - is so utterly bland, with zero personality and basically no interest in anything (apart from one clandestine love affair), not even herself or her daughter (!), who is surrounded by a) a distant, drunken dumbish father who runs the family factory into the ground out of concern for the welfare of his workers (?), b) a dizzy misfit of a sister, c) a villanous pro-Nazi captain-of-industry husband who hates Reds and workers, and d) a nasty domineering sister-in-law who pushes the heroine around like you wouldn’t believe. True, there is also e) a clandestine lover, a romantic militant maverick who provides some interest for a while, and f) the social and political background of The Depression, but no heights are scaled, life is linear not to say flat or even flatulant (as Atwood, who loves toying with vulgarity in a chic kind of way, might have said).

I suppose that this is the stuff some lives are made of, but if it hadn’t been for the magic of the Atwood name and the size of the investment involved ($37.99 for the hardcover edition, which I had thought was going to be worthy to be housed in my main "masterworks" glass-fronted bookshelf, which it decidedly isn’t), I am not sure that I would have lasted the distance.

This book should however be read by Atwood fans, as her crisp, snappy word-conscious style is everywhere, the 1930s atmosphere in provincial Ontario is conveyed most convincingly, and there is a terrific substrata of a 1940s-style Fantasy science-fiction story which the radical rebel writes and which keeps breaking into - and livening up - the main story.

McClellan & Stewart, 521 pages, $37.99 CDN