Thursday, June 15, 2006

Things no one told me. 1)Margaret Atwood is great. 2)Margaret Atwood is a post-modernist. 3)Margaret Atwood gives David Mitchell a run for his money. All of the above were unbeknownst to be me...until now.

Atwood's The Blind Assassin tells the story, I think, of Iris Chase Griffen. But it's Iris's sister Laura Chase that retains most of my attention. Or at least, begs my attention.

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

Come on. She can't really start a novel with a sentence like that, can she? It's brilliant. Through the first 140 pages or so, Iris is telling us her life story in a way. Iris is now 80 years old and living on her own. She tells the story of her family's button factory and their strange tale of war, courtship, shell-shock, death and buttons. But intricately placed within this relatively common storytelling concept, Atwood has placed chapters of Laura's posthumously published novel, The Blind Assassin, as section breaks. Laura's Assassin narrative is about two unnamed lovers secretly meeting in rundown places to make love and tell stories. The unnamed man is telling the woman a story that I figure takes place in the future, or something of the sort. It's a bizarre story, but hell, it's enticing.

The more of Atwood I read, the more I look back on Mitchell's Cloud Atlas as an almost tame book. His sections were separate narratives stitched together with a sometimes obvious connection. Atwood doesn't explain herself like Mitchell does. She doesn't tie things up. At least not yet.

9 comments:

Danielle said...

I loved this book--but I love anything by Margaret Atwood. It is interesting that you call this postmodernist. I have never before tried to classify my reading (other than I liked it or not) as I have never formally studied literature (except in the most general way in high school and the few classes in college). But now I am getting curious about all these terms--experimental and post modern. Maybe it is time to reread this one.

M. Barresi said...

Danielle, I'm not sure about my calling her postmodern, but that's what I get from her. I've been reading the posts by you and Dorothy over this and I'm like you, I fall on the short end of it. I don't necessarily know, I just read and find out later.

Stefanie said...

Isn't Atwood fantastic? If you've not read Alias Grace yet, I highly recommend it as well as Surfacing. Both are brilliant. She is also a very good poet and a wonderful essayist.

kimbofo said...

Wow. Sounds great. I've never read Atwood before, but I have two of hers lying in wait - The Handmaid's Tale (recommended to me by COUNTLESS people) and Alias Grace. Maybe I should bump them up my reading list.

Dorothy W. said...

I haven't read Atwood, but I really, really want to (along with a thousand other things, of course). I did see her read once, which was cool. I am sure you are right about calling her postmodern; from what I know of the kinds of things she does, the term seems accurate. But, ultimately, I'm not sure how useful such labels are. They help give background and context and help a reader understand the relationship of the book to other books and maybe help explain why Atwood does some of what she does, but you can still enjoy it fully without knowing the term. It is kind of exciting, though, to be able to place a writer in her historical and literary context.

Danielle -- I wonder if there is a Postmodernism for Beginners book or something similar -- I've seen a series of books that explain such academic terms, and they are really quite good.

Nadine said...

Blind Assassin is amazing - and, I want to second the recommendation on The Handmaid's Tale - I read it in a feminist studies type class in college...really frightening premise...really beautiful writing.

danielle said...

I second and third the call to read The Handmaid's Tale (and Alias Grace and Surfacing and Cat's Eye--I went through a big phase of her works, but I haven't read anything since the Blind Assassin). Dorothy--I should look around in my library's catalog--I am sure we must have a multitude of books on contemporary literature and how people classify it. I always pretty much just wanted to read for the story, but I am getting more interested in putting it all into some sort of perspective and seeing who influenced who and how and why.

M. Barresi said...

I guess I stereotyped Atwood without even knowing anything about her. I neglected her for years. That's the problem with being a book snob. Most of the time I only have myself to blame for missing out on such literature.

Jen said...

Margaret Atwood is definitely an interesting person in person.

I have had very few people say anything negative about her writing...someday I will get around to reading Atwood...someday!