bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #74: Bluebeard’s Egg by Margaret Atwood

I’m a huge fan of Ms. Atwood’s novels, and I really enjoy the short story, “Happy Endings.” So I thought it time to read a collection of the short stories. As it turns out, I’m not sure there’s anything Atwood *can’t* do.

Bluebeard’s Egg deconstructs family, love, and marriage in its forms. The story “Bluebeard’s Egg” is startling for the surprise it contains, especially when we’ve set up to believe the husband is a certain kind of character. I won’t say more to spoil the surprise. The stories are haunting and poignant. And, of course, beautifully written.

I like short story collections, because they are fairly simple to read. You can read a story in the evening, and pick the book up the next day. Or, if more ambitious, you can polish off several stories in an evening. I really enjoyed this collection, and if you are a fan of Atwood, then I believe that you will too.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

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alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 58: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

“The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassinit is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.

Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.”

UGH I AM SO BEHIND UGH. Anyway, I had an interesting relationship with this book. It took me longer than usual to get through it, for a book of its length, because I found some portions of it to be dull, others rather engaging, and it really didn’t pick up steam for me as a whole until about the last third of the book. The end, though, was so fantastic that it basically made up for any of the earlier sections of the book that I wasn’t as fond of.

There are three interweaving narratives. Two of them are directly told by Iris Chase Griffen; one is her retelling her and her sister’s coming of age and, essentially, her memoirs leading up to the present, and the second is the present as an elderly woman. The retrospective is told without much editorializing from present-day Iris; it’s in the current sections that she discusses regrets and consequences in perfect hindsight. The third narrative is a seemingly out-of-place story of an unnamed man and woman meeting in secret. It’s a story about them, but it also includes a fantastical sc-fi tale of aliens, human sacrifice, and yes, blind assassins, that the man weaves at each new tryst. It eventually becomes clear that this story is text from “The Blind Assassin,” Laura Chase’s breakout novel.

Part of the reason that it took so long for the novel to come together for me was how seemingly disparate the stories were, at first. Obviously the two “parts” about Iris made sense together, but there was an uncomfortable tension arising from the suspicion that somehow, when the two finally converged, we’d find out a big secret about Iris. This kind of tension can be a great thing, and it was, for a time (and it eventually paid off!) but it can also seem really belabored if the pacing is inconsistent. For me, it unfortunately was a bit inconsistent, and I spent some time thinking, “Get to the point!”

Despite all that, when I think back on the novel now, I think of it as a net positive experience — that despite having a hard time getting through parts of it, my suspense (it’s not a thriller, but suspense is there nonetheless) was rewarded enough to merit the occasional frustration. I definitely recommend this for Atwood fans who haven’t read it yet, but for those who may be new to Atwood, it might be difficult to start here. It’s an interesting mix of sci-fi (in “The Blind Assassin” Incepto-novel,) historical fiction, and contemporary fiction and ultimately succeeds at blending them, but it can seem, at first, a little needlessly ambitious.

Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #49: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

So, you know what’s creepy? Treating women as empty vessels. Vessels whose sole purpose is to become pregnant to continue on a specific race or religious group’s existence. You know what else is creepy? When the ritual surrounding getting those women pregnant involves a handmaid laying on a wives torso while the husband ejaculates inside of her.

Spoiler alert: this isn’t a happy book. It’s not full of hope, it’s not one woman fighting against a horrific, patriarchal society that only values her if she can produce a child. It’s not the Hunger Games, and Offred (the name, so disturbing) is not Katniss. This is a book that details the dullness of the life of the handmaid, that special class of women who were schooled together to become wombs for the elite. These women are not being allowed to read. They must accept being penetrated by the head of the house monthly. They go on daily chores covered head to toe, with literal side blinders on. They eat their meals in their rooms, alone.

When particularly draconian reproductive rights cuts are put into law, you’ll sometimes hear this book mentioned, and with good reason. The book may outline an extreme society, but disturbingly enough, it’s not so extreme as to be unimaginable. I don’t see the U.S. becoming Gilead as it does in the book, but I see the thinking that permeates that fictional society underlying so many of the anti-choice laws being proposed and passed these days. As I type this, the city of Albuquerque is voting on whether some reproductive rights should be taken away from the women who live there.

The writing in this book is heavy, but it didn’t take long to read. I think it’s a good book to read, although I can’t say I enjoyed it. It’s one of those books that is important, and I think should be added to the reading list of anyone who cares about our rights being slowly chipped away.

bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #71: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Ack. It seems like I should have been reading more than I have (but London Fields is still in progress, as is The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and so help me, I had to put down Allegiant because I was just not feeling it), but at this point in the semester, any reading is good. I read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin about nine years ago when I was a wee sophomore in college and it just blew.my.mind. My graduate department association voted this as our first book club selection, and I was curious to see how this book held up years later. As it turns out, it’s still one of my favorites.

In brief (not easy, since it’s over 500 pages long): The Blind Assassin is a multi-layered story. The outermost focuses on the ailing and elderly Iris Chase Griffen musing over the course her life has taken, in all its sordid past, regrets, and oppression. She writes down the story of “what really happened” for her absent granddaughter, Sabrina, long estranged. Embedded in that story is the novel The Blind Assassin, written by her sister Laura who drove her car off a bridge just days after World War II ended in Germany. This layer, interspersed with news clippings related to the Chase and Griffen families, tells us of two lovers engaged in an affair, with the man telling the story of the blind assassin who falls in love with a virgin about to be sacrificed in the fictional realm of Sakiel-Norn.

This description might make your head spin–and it sometimes the novel truly does–but all the stories converge in a rather thrilling finish. I love long novels (no, really), and I really enjoyed the way Atwood developed Iris so fully as to make her a rich and complex character. I also really felt that Atwood expertly depicts the sort of mid-twentieth century daring that had to accompany the mere act of writing by women. It’s a beautifully crafted novel, one that satisfied me yet again.

It’s more socially subtle and less politically driven than some of Atwood’s more popular fare, like The Handmaid’s Tale, or her MaddAddam trilogy, but it focuses on the craft of storytelling. And sometimes, that’s really all you need from a novel.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

KayKay #CRB5 Review #51 Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Orxy and Crake

**SPOILER ALERT**

My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

I had previously read The Handmaid’s Tale, which I felt was OK, but not the gem that everyone else seems to think it is.  Oryx and Crake sounded like a good apocalypse story, and I was hoping for something like The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Here is what I thought….

Orxy and Crake

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #65: The Penelopiad (Canongate Myths #2) by Margaret Atwood

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“Who is to say that prayers have any effect? On the other hand, who is to say they don’t? I picture the gods, diddling around on Olympus, wallowing in the nectar and ambrosia and the aroma of burning bones and fat, mischievous as a pack of ten-year-olds with a sick cat to play with and a lot of time on their hands. ‘Which prayer shall we answer today?’ they ask one another. ‘Let’s cast the dice! Hope for this one, despair for that one, and while we’re at it, let’s destroy the life of that woman over there by having sex with her in the form of a crayfish!’ I think they pull a lot of their pranks because they’re bored.”

The Penelopiad is part of a multi-author attempt to rewrite ancient stories from a different perspective. As you may have guessed from the title, this novel is Atwood’s version of the Odyssey, written from Penelope’s point of view. And Margaret Atwood is just such a good writer, y’all. I haven’t read The Odyssey in ten years, and didn’t particularly love it then, but this version is interesting and witty and damn funny.
Homer’s Penelope was a dull, faithful wife. Atwood’s is clever and sneaky and fascinating. In Atwood’s retelling, we get to see exactly what was going through Penelope’s head for those twenty years that Odysseus disappeared. She also creates an answer to the question: why exactly did Odysseus hang Penelope’s maids upon his return?

bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #65: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

Thanks to my library’s awesome and efficient Inter-Library Loan system, I ended up with a hot-off-the-press copy of the conclusion to Margaret Atwood’s stunning MaddAddam trilogy last week. I just finished reading it today. Oh, my heart.

I won’t summarize Oryx and Crake or the sequel The Year of the Flood here, because I’ve already recapped them in the Cannonball Read. But read them first. Atwood creates a world that is simultaneously a small microcosmic community and a vast universe, one that shrinks and expands rapidly with its colorful array of characters and scenes in a world that has been ravaged by a plague. She builds the plot with each novel, so that threads of one narrative become entangled with its successive sequel and finally come together in the very end. Toby is, rightfully, a major focus of the novel, as she becomes entwined with the mysterious and highly charismatic Zeb. Through the eyes of Toby, we get closer to the human-like Crakers and to Zeb, whose past is colorful, dangerous, and mysteriously linked to Adam One, leader of the God’s Gardeners. Zeb’s relationship to Adam One is the pivotal point of this book, as it forms the backstory for the entire trilogy, and becomes a bedtime story for the Crakers in ways that are inventive and hilarious.

Atwood ties off many loose ends and leaves a conclusion that is ultimately satisfying and bittersweet, incorporating the hope/despair/pain/beauty of life begun anew in the developing post-”Flood” world on earth. It was neither overly sentimental nor cynical, striking the right balance of optimism and realism. I was saddened to leave behind the MaddAddamites/God’s Gardeners/Crakers that became more than just plot points but people in whom I could sink major interest. I’d definitely mark this as my favorite in the trilogy, since it builds on so many plot points, characters, philosophies, and ideas from the others to create something informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining.

Atwood has many strengths as a writer: luminous prose, masterful storytelling techniques, and a story that matters. The MaddAddam trilogy matters because it could become our earth. It matters because it’s a great story that longs to be told. It matters because it shows us (like many a great dystopic novel before it) how to be ourselves in a world that is falling apart around us. I won’t say anymore, for risk of making this book seem maudlin. It’s not. Read it. You will not regret it.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.