What do we look for in a "classic" book? What criteria should be used to judge a novel as Booker prize worthy?
As I was reading The Blind Assassin, I held it to a high standard. If my comments on this book seem harsh and unfair, please allow that I was expecting rather a lot from it. It wasn't just light entertainment -- it was a contender for the "Best of the Bookers!" Implicit in this judgment, I think, is that such a book is not only well-written . . . but that it has qualities which make it timeless and universal. I really do believe that the very best books can be read over and over again, with just as much pleasure, and even more understanding -- or rather a "different" understanding as the reader matures.
Perhaps I do need to read The Blind Assassin again, because I think that the effort of trying to work out how it all fitted together perhaps detracted from my ability to immerse myself in the story. But do I want to read it again? (Not really.)
Here are a few more things that I think about the book:
- The science-fiction narrative was a bit gimmicky. I don't think it added to the book; it felt more like Atwood trying to be "clever."
- It annoyed me that Iris and Alex's relationship was so opaque.
- I didn't believe in the character of Laura. She didn't seem like a real person, and I didn't feel there was much bond between the two sisters.
- I realize that Iris felt that Laura had been entrusted to her care. I see that the "blind assassin" from the internal science fiction narrative was both victim and tool -- as Iris perceived herself to be -- but I think that the word "assassin" is entirely too melodramatic for what actually took place. In the final scene between the sisters, Laura seems much stronger than the sleep-walking, rather colorless Iris. Also, why would Laura have killed herself at that point? I feel like the book blanked out, or muffled, all of the emotion.
- For all of the "revelations" made by the elderly Iris, I felt like we had been given some of the pieces of a puzzle -- but that it still didn't really form a coherent picture.
- The book seemed more like an exercise in the construction of narrative than anything else. It lacked emotional impact, even though there were highly emotive incidents in it.
Feel free to disagree with me!