My favourite book: Why Margaret Atwood is right up there...

With our libraries closed, we are staying in touch with our librarians each week with My Favourite Book. Holly Burrell, a Saturday assistant at Southwick Library, tells us her choice.

Monday, 4th May 2020, 6:44 pm
Updated Monday, 4th May 2020, 6:46 pm
Holly Burrell

“One of my favourite books is The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. The story centres around Canadian protagonist, Iris Chase, born into a wealthy family in Port Ticonderoga, near Toronto. It moves backwards and forwards through time, and focuses primarily on Iris’ memories of her sister Lauraa and how they navigated their way through their childhood, grappling with the loss of their mother, their emotionally distant father, the prospect of marriage, independence and becoming women in the turbulent era preceding and encompassing the Second World War. So many themes are explored in the book: feminism (of course), grief, family, war, trauma, identity, status, and exploitation, to name but a few, all of which are woven intricately into a complex and engaging plot. The intimate and intricate lives of Iris and her family are explored against a broad and vivid picture of a Canadian town, its industry, its politics, and its changing landscape, adapting to a challenging new world.

“I found a copy of this book on a table in a pub in Brighton in March 2011, when I was out for a friend’s birthday. It had plain cover, and a note attached stating that it had been left deliberately for someone to find and read in honour of World Book Day. The note instructed that after I had read it, I was to leave it somewhere for someone else to find. It was the first time I remember being aware of World Book Day, and, being a lifelong bookworm, I was thrilled and started reading as soon as I got home.

“At the time, I was pregnant with my first child and having very bad spells of sickness. On my bad days the only way I could distract myself from the sickness was to dive into this book where I would get instantly absorbed in Atwood’s engaging writing and transported into the world she created. The way the tale of this fictional family was immersed in a real location and woven into real historical events made it so tangible and clear in my mind that I could imagine I was there. I felt that I knew the place and could relate to the experience, although I’ve never been to Canada in my life, I’m not from a wealthy family and I’m certainly not old enough to remember that period in history. I don’t even have a sister. But I think it’s the way the author writes her characters and observes such timeless and universal elements of the human condition that makes her writing so accessible and relatable to any reader.

“There is a twist in the story, which to this day remains my favourite literary twist. It dawned on me gradually and by the time it was revealed I had already guessed it, but it wasn’t the sudden shock or element of surprise that made it so profound; it was the gradual unveiling through Atwood’s immaculate storytelling, and the way it unfolded: layer after layer peeling away to reveal its sublime but heart-breaking conclusion.

“Margaret Atwood had many titles to her name, most famously the dystopian, politically charged novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. But, as enthralled as I was with The Handmaids Tale, I think it was my love of The Blind Assassin that prompted me to run out and buy The Testaments in hardback the day it was released, eager to dive into more of that intricate and absorbing storytelling.”

Following the latest advice in relation to Covid-19, all West Sussex Libraries are closed until further notice, but they’ve introduced a virtual hub of your local library’s online services, all accessible from home. Borrow eBooks, explore family and local history content via https://arena.westsussex.gov.uk/web/arena/currentoffer

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