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Fashion Book: The Blind Assassin

2011 March 3
by Jill

I solved my book club dilemma by starting one of my own. For our first meeting in two weeks, I chose The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

I’d never read anything by Atwood before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up loving this book. It’s got intrigue and romance and plot twists and old world glamour. It’s got Communists and Nazis and capitalists and suicides and secrets.

The book begins with the stories of the Chase sisters, Iris and Laura, daughters of an Ontario industrial family that’s fallen on hard times following WWI. As the action unfolds, we learn that Laura, a famous author, drove her car off a bridge in 1945, leaving older sister Iris to pick up the pieces of her mysterious death. The book is told half in Iris’ point of view, as an old woman looking back, and half in The Blind Assassin, a novel-within-a-novel. The book is suspenseful, and the ending isn’t quite what anyone would expect.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the way in which you got a sense of the time period from Atwood’s vivid descriptions. She doesn’t skimp on the details, including clothing. She uses style to set the place and characters. For instance, we meet Winifred, Iris’ sister-in-law in this description: “…youngish, thin, stylish, trailing diaphanous orange-tinted muslin like the steam from a watery tomato soup. Her picture hat was green, as were her high-heeled slingbacks and a wispy scarf affair she’d draped around her neck. She was overdressed for the picnic.”

My favorite description, though, is of Callie Fitzsimmons, a young artist who becomes involved with Iris and Laura’s father:

“For this evening she wore a jersey dress the colour of a duster–taupe was the name of this colour, she’d told us; it was French for mole. On anyone else it would have looked like a droopy bag with sleeves and a belt, but Callie managed to make it seem the height, not of fashion or chic exactly–this dress implied that such things were beneath notice–but rather of something easy to overlook, but sharp, like a common kitchen implement–an ice pick, say–just before the murder. As a dress, it was a raised fist, but in a silent crowd.”

Here’s a recreation of Callie’s raised fist:
Blind Assassin
For item details, click on the image.

5 Responses Post a comment
  1. March 3, 2011

    Love it! I’m reading this one right now between book club books. Margaret Atwood is an amazing writer and I want to read more of her stuff. I’ve also read The Handmaid’s Tale, which is fantastic, in case you haven’t read it yet.

    Congrats on your book club! Can’t wait to hear more.

    – Meredith

  2. Kelli permalink
    March 3, 2011

    I’ve never read any Atwood either, but actually have this book sitting on my shelf at home. Glad to read it comes recommended.

    I ADORE this line:
    “As a dress, it was a raised fist, but in a silent crowd.”

  3. Mal permalink
    March 3, 2011

    Margaret Atwood is like a rock star to me. I’ve actually pictured meeting her, thought about what I would say, and almost cried when I found out I had to work the day of her (very rare) reading in Harvard.

    At first, I had a hard time with this book because it is so startlingly non-Atwoodian (that’s a thing). But then I realized how pretty it was, and at least once every page there was a sentence or paragraph that I wanted to read 10 times before I kept going.

    I remember this particular description as one of those that stopped me in my tracks, and I think your interpretation is gorgeous. (Also: want. those. shoes.)

  4. Amy G permalink
    March 4, 2011

    One of my favorite writers, and one of my all-time favorite books! It stayed with me for a long time–I found the ending extremely powerful (I’m reluctant to say too much). Just loved it, and love her.

  5. March 4, 2011

    I love Atwood. Haven’t read this one, but it’s been on my list for some time. Sounds like something I’d love. I loved The Handmaids Tale and totally recommend it.

    Hooray for your book club!

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