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Jeff's Review Corner

I have never been one to hide my opinions from public scrutiny. I don’t mean this as a boast, it is simply the truth. More than once it has gotten me in trouble, but having worked extensively as a journalist, my integrity as a member of the press corps means a lot to me – so the truth already comes out, whether it’s necessarily advisable in terms of “Do I really want to have a second date with this woman?” or not. But that’s because of the inherent pride that comes with being in the press corps because, to an actual member of it, it’s like saying that you’re a part of the Green Lantern corps – it’s just automatically awesome and worth mentioning loudly in public places (Example, when asked about the weather that day, a member might proclaim, “Yes, the weather is nice today and I, as a member of the press corps, thoroughly enjoy it!”). Unfortunately, to the rest of the world that’s like bragging about the newly-mutated second head growing out of our elbows, but we roll with impact well.

By this laborious intro, I mean that I’m no stranger to controversy and I’ve, more than once, stated unpopular opinion about popular media and have had to take the resulting storm afterwards. Comes with the cool title, I guess. I bring this up because in recent weeks I was obligated to read a particular novel that proved a tad polarizing. By “polarizing” I mean “the women in my class loved it and I found a replacement for ‘Worst Book Ever’ nudging Of Mice and Men off the charts by 625 pages”. So, just bare in mind that this is purely my opinion and that I am probably in a different state from you… and if I’m not, it’s still illegal to throw large, heavy objects at me.

Today’s Book: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Sometimes book reviews can be tricky, eliciting such opening lines as “I wasn’t sure where to begin with this one” but, conversely, I know precisely where to begin. There are absolutely no quotation marks used in the first three chapters of the book. I’m not even joking, you can check all you want but there’s no indication as to when the narrator ceases talking and a character starts. This becomes crippling because the first three chapters also refuse to use any names. I’m not joking, sadly. But before I should forget the first page of this little charmer is an obituary for one of the main characters, who has not even been introduced yet. Still not joking. So, we start off by killing one of the primary moving forces of the book, then we get treated to the immediate loss of all sense of time, location and identity by not having names and then the additional bonus of completely throwing all story flow out the window because the author thought she was being cute by not including proper punctuation. Apparently, Mrs. Atwood was not informed that being stylistically bad is still being bad. I didn’t let it go when E. E. Cummings refused to use capitalization, I’m certainly not letting it go now.

So, what happens during these prologue chapters? Certainly they must build up some kind of story, after all, the author wouldn’t risk boring her potential audience into a coma by refusing to take her “stylistic” (and I use the word far too loosely here for its own good) section of the book and making it establish at least something, right? Clearly if you thought that, you’re a far nicer individual than I. No, absolutely nothing happens. It’s vaguely alluded that some woman and some guy are having some kind of steamy affair but, I reiterate, they’re never given names, faces or legitimate backstories so who cares? What we are given, in lieu of any actual forethought concerning silly details like a plot or convincing characters, is dialog that must’ve been translated by Babelfish, the rough draft of what could have potentially been a much more interesting novel concerning an alien culture (which is soundly defeated circa chapter three, when the guy telling the story admits he ripped it unaltered from history textbooks concerning the Hittites) and purple prose concerning the outfit of the nameless, faceless woman we still have no legitimate reason to like or empathize for. And let’s not forget that the highlight of the first three chapters is the nameless guy owning a compass that spelled out an obscenity. Of course, the book also knows how to keep it classy.

From there, it only worsens, if you can fathom such a thing. As of chapter four not only is punctuation suddenly being used without warning (did she fire her ghostwriter? The change makes no sense. If you’re going to try and be “stylish” with writing, you should do it consistently.) it also shifts from a third-person omniscient narrator to a first-person narrative without any prior warning. It’s like the first three chapters were written by someone who knew the language but not how it was assembled and handed it off to someone who could, from a mechanical standpoint, understand English but both of them didn’t know how to write convincing drama. We’re (finally) introduced to our protagonist, Iris. Was Iris the woman having the affair? Your guess is frankly as good as my own.

Iris, as it turns out, is an angry and embittered woman living sometime in history (again, this is really unclear and the narrator shifts between four or five points and times, making the book as hard to follow as it is to read and not fall asleep) who spends her time commenting on things that no one in the right state of mind could conceivably care about and complaining at great length about them all. Something about her childhood and how her sister, Laura (the one who died on page one, for those who care), always seemed to be the outgoing, social romantic whereas she was expected to be the prim, proper lady and follow social customs of the day. This theme is harped on for the remainder of the book and the author really wants us to know it too.

To add insult to the injury I stemmed from this book (primarily the reflexive aneurisms in my brain, trying to give itself a swift death rather than suffer any more of this slop) the book, apparently, is supposed to be littered with subtext and symbolism. I say, “Nuts to that,” (and I even used quotation marks, Mrs. Atwood, it isn’t that difficult) because subtext is a lot of hooey. If you work at it long enough you could make The Very Hungry Caterpillar represent the inevitable downfall of communism – it can be virtually whatever you want it to be regardless as to the author’s intent. Therein lies the problem: the book tries to hold itself up as some beacon of imagery and “deeper meaning” by attempting several things at once and then forgetting and dropping them just as quickly as they came, with the sole exception of the needlessly elaborate detail on each and every clothing item each and every character was wearing. If I wanted to read the details of a fashion catalogue, I would go and buy a fashion catalogue. And I’m sure it’d be much better written too.

To be fair, I was unable to get much more than ¼ into the book before my lungs threatened to quit functioning, so I suppose someone could argue that it gets better later on. However, people who make that argument should be reminded that if you cannot suck the reader into the world of the book within the first five chapters the story is already a failure and is condemned to kindling. I suppose I’d give it another shot if it turned out that the alien culture in the book was real and it came to earth riding dinosaurs or some such but seeing as how a rudimentary web search proves Mrs. Atwood only writes subpar drama, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that that’s not happening.

To summarize it all into one word, this book is pretentious. It tries to make itself stand up tall and present itself as being deep and meaningful when, in actuality, the book’s sole redeeming merit is that, due to its 570 page length, it would be a fantastic makeshift weapon should a burglar break into my house at night and I didn’t want to get my crowbar dirty. Alternatively, I found it makes an absolutely delightful replacement for sleep medication because even when people begin using names and quotation marks the characters, plot, setting and details given are about as exciting as watching paint dry but only half as productive. In short: avoid this book like the plague and read a good book instead. I recommend mine.

"There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it."
~Chinese Proverb
"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new."

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