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In Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel, published in 2000, she tells the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase.

The book opens with a report of Laura’s death by possible suicide, shortly after the ending of World War II. An older Iris, writing from the tail end of the 20th century, tells the story of her current life, and also the story of her and Laura’s lives. There is a second narrative – that of Laura’s posthumously published novel The Blind Assassin, which is about two unnamed lovers and their clandestine meetings, during which the man entertains the woman with a rather macabre and violent sci-fi story set on the planet of Zycron.

Margaret Atwood is one of those authors who I love, even when I don’t love her. The Handmaid’s Tale was a solid 5/5 for me, whereas Oryx and Crake was something of a disappointment. But generally speaking I always get something from her books and rarely forget them.

The Blind Assassin was not at all what I expected and for the first part, I was not sure I was going to like it. But it kind of crept up on me and I realised that I was enjoying it. In all honesty I never really felt as though I got a handle on Iris despite her narrating much of the book. In fact, Laura was more of a rounded character – sure she was an enigma, but she was meant to be, even to those closest to her – despite being dead before the story started.

As always with Atwood, the language is intelligent and luscious, and often at times quite cutting. Nobody quite comes out of her books without some sort of mark by their name! I didn’t like the direction that Iris’ life took, but neither did she, so I imagine that was deliberate.

I would recommend this book to any fans of Margaret Atwood – although I probably don’t need to because they will have already read it. I felt always slightly detached from it; it was always a story with me on the outside looking in, instead of one of those books that you find yourself completely immersed in, but I liked it a lot for the writing and for never quite knowing where and how it was going to end.

 

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This novel tells the story of three sisters making their way in vaudeville in Canada in the early 1900s. Aurora, Clover and Bella, together with their widowed and fragile mother Flora, go from theatre to theatre, sometimes headlining, sometimes opening the show and experiencing the various ups and downs of vaudeville and life in general.

The book covers the period from shortly before the outbreak of World War I, to shortly before the end of that war. As the family move from across the country, they each experience love and heartbreak and end up growing up in their own individual ways.

It is very clear that the author has extensively researched her subject and there are some real life characters included, although most are fictional but based on real life (for example, one character is based on Buster Keaton and his family). It made for an interesting and informative read, and I do feel that it gave a lot of insight into what is essentially an unstable profession. What I liked about the sisters was their very believable love and support for each other – each had their own talent and personality and they all complemented each other.

While overall I enjoyed this book, I would say I liked it rather than loved it. I would recommend it, but with some hesitation as I feel that if historical fiction is not a genre you would normally enjoy, this is not a book which is going to change your mind.

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In 1968, in a small town in Labrador, Canada, Treadway and Jacinta Blake have a child.  But they find that their baby has both male and female genetalia, and make the difficult decision that their child should have surgery.  They raise him as their son and call him Wayne.  Only Treadway, Jacinta and a friend named Thomasina know the truth and Wayne is not told.  However, as Wayne grows, he discovers an emotional part of himself – his female character, who he calls Annabel, after Thomasina’s deceased daughter.

As Wayne grows older, he and the three adults who share the secret are all affected in different ways, and each faces their own struggle to come to terms with the truth.

When I started this book, I was not sure whether I would like it or not, but as I read on, it pulled me in, and I found compelled to read more about Wayne and his family.  The writing is spare, and very beautiful in parts, with the loneliness that the four main characters each feel reflected in the remote and sparsely populated land where they live.

Each character’s struggle manifests itself in different ways, as the book takes us through Wayne’s childhood, school years and beyond.  In many ways, very little happens, but there is so much strangeness in the normalcy of their lives, contrasted with the unusualness of Wayne’s body.  The story is haunting in parts, and I really felt that all of the characters were realistically and believably drawn; sometimes their behaviour seems questionable, but it’s hard not to wonder what any other ordinary person would do in their situation.

It’s hard to believe that this was a debut novel – it was so emotive and yet under-stated, and treated Wayne’s condition (for want of a better word) with delicacy and compassion.  A book which I would definitely recommend.

 

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