The Blind Assassin

Another library find, Margaret Atwood’s 2001 Booker Prize winner, The Blind Assassin. What initially drew me to this book was its cover. The vintage appeal, the oval face and softly muted colors of the classic prints I have so admired in antique stores since childhood. Then the all important flip to the first page which reads, “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” Consider me sold.

The Blind Assassin

Image respectfully borrowed from Goodreads.

The Bind Assassin is largely told from the perspective of Iris Chase, now in her eighties, as she recounts her past with her sister, Laura, who very much dominates her thoughts. The once great Chase fortune has been diminished and what remains is Laura’s legacy after Iris posthumously published Laura’s writings. The mystery and scandal around the Chase family pulls the reader forward through the twists and turns of the story.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the setting of the novel, Port Ticonderoga, Canada, because the location seemed so innocuous for all the mystery swirling around the Chase family. The setting is vividly brought to life in both the past and present, and the societal divide between the previous century and the new millennium as described by Iris is fascinating.

The novel is broken up into fifteen parts, each containing an unspecified number of chapters. Each part focuses on a different aspect of the story and they alternate one after the other. For example, Iris’ present and her flashbacks would be in one section and Laura’s novel and news clippings from the past would be in another section.

One of the best parts of this book is that you get the feeling of being a detective. Which details are relevant? Which sister is telling the truth? Atwood teases her readers with little clues that are expertly wrought. As fact and fiction blur you cannot help but get caught up in the mystery.

Even when you feel you have pinned down a detail or plot point, Atwood is a compelling enough writer to make you believe you haven’t fully figured it out. That small nugget of ‘what if’ propels you through The Blind Assassin.

Atwood truly is an amazing storyteller whose poetic musings make any of her novels more impactful. One of my favorite lines was a random bit that felt like an incantation, “I was sand, I was snow–written on, rewritten, smoothed over.” Gives me chills. The whole novel is littered with this gorgeous debris of language that made me pause to contemplate a sentence. As a reader, that’s one of the most powerful sensations–the urge to stop and contemplate rather than forge ahead.

My one complaint, if any, is that at times the story felt a bit slow. Especially in the beginning, when Iris flashes back to the early points of childhood. But as you churn through the pages, you get the sense that every detail is connected, which further builds the tension.

One of my favorite novels of all time is John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany. In many ways I think Irving and Atwood’s novels are kindred spirits. Both have a narrator whose life is defined by a small, strange family member or friend that they feel compelled to help. These narrators are the survivors who must write down their trials. The subjects–Owen and Laura–are both lit from within by their conceptions of religion, and no one truly understands them until it is too late. These are large-scale comparisons but if you are a fan of A Prayer For Owen Meany, I would highly recommend Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. And vice versa if you haven’t read the John Irving novel.

I find myself being deliberately vague with this review when describing the plot because I do not want to spoil the mystery in any way. I will say that a discerning reader will quickly pick up on the subtext Atwood weaves throughout The Blind Assassin, and the ending was slightly disappointing because I thought Atwood would round things off more. Still a great read though.

I’d give Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin 4 book bubbles.

Thanks for popping in!

Book Review: Live and Let Die

One of the best parts of moving is getting a new library card. Or at least for me that’s one of the best parts. On my inaugrual visit to my local library I wandered around the shelves and discovered an “in the movies” display, that held, among other things, about ten Ian Fleming books.

These James Bond novels were recently (c. 2008) rebound for Fleming’s 100th birthday and the covers have this great retro, ’60’s vibe to them. Having never read any of the 007 novels, I decided to give them a shot. Unfortunately, the first in the series, Casino Royale, was checked out by another. So I went with the second book, Live and Let Die.


Bond is just as suave and debonair in print as he is on the screen. Reading this novel, you can really see why this series has been such fertile material for film. It’s a slim, trim book at just 229 pages. But those pages are full of well paced action and adventure. Well-paced gets used often in book or movie reviews, and in this case I mean it does a good job of giving you breathers between covert operations while still giving you salient information.

One of the great things about this series constantly being revamped on film is that it gives you more freedom to imagine Bond however you’d like because so many men have already filled the 007 shoes. For whatever reason I kept picturing Cary Grant as Bond, even though he has never played Bond. The way that Fleming writes Bond’s dialogue and thought process just reminds me of Grant in North By Northwest, although certainly more effective at the spy game. But I digress.

There isn’t a great deal of surprise with this book–you know Bond will be put in multiple life-and-death situations, you know Bond will survive, you know Bond will get the girl–but Fleming still keeps your attention. I didn’t find my mind wandering at all while reading this novel. Except for this one thing…

Holy Racism, Batman (wait, wrong action hero)! I realize that this book was originally published in 1954, over a decade before the major civil rights movement in 1965-1969, but whoa. Sometimes as a reader when you’re faced with writing from previous decades or centuries,  you end up struggling with accepting things like blatant racism or sexism as just another part of the story. It’ll catch you off guard and hit you right in the gut. When this happens you can either stop reading the book altogether or you can chalk it up to the context of time when the book was written.  I opted for the latter.

Still, there were moments when I felt my eyes widen in surprise at the level of casual racism. For instance, there is a scene in a nightclub where Bond listens to a conversation between a black couple that’s written in a dialect style. This conversation is irrelevant to the larger plot; it does nothing for our understanding of character or events. It goes on for two pages and it’s horrible on so many levels.

And all of the villains are black. The only two redeemable characters who are black, Fleming takes the time to mention that they look to be of mixed race. These were the moments when I struggled with this novel the most.

Vodoo is also a central to the plot, and it’s interesting in how superstitious the portrayal of that religion comes off. And it still is shown that way in many mediums. But the use of Vodoo didn’t bother me as much because the villain, Mr. Big (take that Carrie Bradshaw!), utilizes the superstitions as how he controls his power base, which fit within his character.

I could have used a bit more of Mr. Big in this novel. He’s always in the background as the looming threat but he was a complex bit of evil that I would have liked more info on.

Also this novel amped up my fear of deep water. I appreciated that Bond was likewise concerned about sharks and barracudas because the man has to have a chink in his armor somewhere. Some of the most poetic writing from Fleming came from the scenes where he discusses the great unknown of the ocean, which was beautiful and terrifying to read. I’m not a large body of water person, so I felt on the edge of my seat whenever Bond had to use rudimentary scuba gear.

One of the things I liked most about this book and this character was when Bond talks to himself about “his stars.” Bond considers his stars a guide and a powerful force in his life. I myself am rather star obsessed. I have two tattoos that have to do with stars, so I connected with that part of Bond’s character.

Overall, I liked Live and Let Die and Fleming’s sense of character. I did struggle with the social context of the novel, particularly considering what has been happening lately in the US with Ferguson. But I would be interested in reading other Bond novels in the future.

Archetype Almost Breaks the Mold

When I first picked this novel up it was all about the cover. I was at LAX and the bright blue and red color blocking just called to me. And the back jacket did it’s job of intriguing me with story.  A few weeks later I picked up the book to actually read it and not just be a pretty face on my book shelf.

Archetype: A Novel (Archetype, #1)

Image respectfully borrowed from Goodreads

So after some frantic page turning and late nights here is my review of M.D. Waters’ Archetype.

Emma has lost her memory in some kind of freak accident. All she knows is that she wants to please her husband, Declan, and that she has an inner voice that tells her everything is not what it seems. Guided by that pesky inner voice–who seems separate from herself–Emma begins to remember fragments of an extremely different life with an extremely different man, the angry and enigmatic Noah. Set in a future where fertile women are a commodity, Emma must figure out which future she wants to live out–her present as an adoring wife or her past as a member of the rebellion.

That is an abbreviated summary to say the least, but I’m trying not to spoil everything in this review. Part of the fun of reading this novel is figuring out the details with Emma. I’ll get into some major spoilers down below, but I also wanted there to be enough info for you if you were trying to avoid the spoilers.

The book’s back cover quote references Archetype as a kind of heir to The Handmaid’s Tale, and while I can see the parallels I don’t necessarily agree. They’re in the same genre, certainly. But Archetype is more Alias-esque than Ofred-esque. Which is still a great middle ground for the novel to occupy.

If you’re a fan of TV shows such as “Alias” or “Orphan Black” then I would definitely recommend Archetype. The pace of the novel is light and quick without lacking in substance. Episodic style chapters make the read easy but it’s also great for finding a stopping place if you want to draw out the reading experience. This would be such a great book for traveling. It’s not too long and you can devour it on the plane or at the beach.

If you’re looking for deep philosophical meaning in your sci-fi, this is not the book for you. Waters doesn’t explain the science and implications on humanity enough for that kind of reader to be satisfied. But if you’re looking for an enjoyable weekend read, give this book a shot.


*Spoiler Alert*
**Seriously, I’m about to discuss the ending right now**


My favorite thing about this novel is that we have a female character who falls in love and then leaves the guy(s) in the end for HER well being and happiness. For that reason alone I would recommend Archetype.It’s just something you don’t see that often in NA. Not that Emma doesn’t love Noah (or Declan). There is definitely a love story there, but Emma leaves because she realizes how unhealthy staying is.

That said, I would be shocked if the second book, Prototype, wasn’t about Emma struggling to get back to Noah and prove to him that she’s still the same woman he married in spite of being a clone. And I’d still like to read that story. But I am thrilled that Waters did not wrap her novel up in a prepackaged bow.

I’m not going to do Emma Wade the disservice of labeling her a strong female character because that phrase gets thrown around far too much for it to have meaning. Emma has moments of weakness and willfully lives in denial for a large chunk of the book, but these flaws take the story to some really interesting places. Her denial also makes Emma more realistic as a character.

I liked this book but my personal rating system has been revolving around whether or not I would physically keep the book. Storage in my life right now is at such a premium. The potential to re-read is also a strong factor. So I enjoyed Archetype and would love to read its sequel, but I think this one may get passed on to a friend or the local used bookstore. The only thing that might sway me is the cover. I might keep this book for the cover because I love the graphics so much.

Anyone else read Archetype? Tell me what you think in the comments!