Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood

Virago 2001

This is an absolute five-star novel, recently re-issued for those who missed it the first time, and for those who didnt, it certainly rewards a second reading. It contains three distinct narratives, one inside the other, stories within stories. Set in Atwoods native Canada, The Blind Assassin is a family history, a romance, a memoir, and a pulp-magazine sci-fi story. This latter features beautiful nude dead women with azure hair, curvaceous figures, ruby-red lips and eyes like snake-filled pits, who hang around the ancient ruined tombs in the desolate mountains to the West. Yes please!

Two sisters; one meekly dutiful, the other strange and unpredictable. Neither is quite what she seems, and both of them carry secrets. Clues to these occur in all three narratives, even the lurid sci-fi. Atwood combines laser intelligence with a feminist sensibility which never whines or preaches. Some of her female characters are passive or complicit in their fate: Blondes are like white mice, you only find them in cages. Her observation of the relations between men and women are perceptive and often witty: Men had urges, in those days; they were numerous, these urges; they lived underground in the dark nooks and crannies of a mans being and once in a while they would gather strength and sally forth, like a plague of rats. They were so cunning and strong, how could any real man be expected to prevail against them?

As for the love story, its definitely The Thinking Womans romance: She imagines him dreaming of her, as she is dreaming of him. Through a sky the colour of wet slate they fly towards each other on dark invisible wings, searching, drawn by hope and longing. In their dreams they touch, they intertwine, its more like a collision, and that is the end of the flying. They fall to earth, fouled parachutists, botched and cindery angels, love streaming out behind them like torn silk. Mills and Boon it aint. On top of all the wonderful prose, theres a brilliant twist right at the end, inspiring the wish to re-read the whole thing at once, in a new light.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.


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