Revisiting favourites: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood & Boardwalk Empire

While I have been talking about all the new things I have read or watched, we thought – why not revisit old favourites as well? Of course, memory being transient, the minute details won’t be as fresh as before. But, the things that have impacted and shaped us, they do remain in the form of certain images or feelings we had felt at that time. So every week or so, we will talk about any 2 movies and/or books that have significance in our lives.

Book: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

Despite the fact that it has been nearly 10 years since I read this book, these first words with which the book kicks off are as haunting to me as before. I remember stopping a little after reading this first sentence and preparing myself for the immensely melancholic world that this book was going to immerse me into.

It’s impossible to reduce Margaret Atwood’s brilliance and poetry into plots and it’s almost criminal to take such a reductionist approach because her books are such experiences. But, if I were to describe it, I would say there are 2 stories. One is the story of Iris as she reminisces back to her childhood and her younger, much beloved sister Laura’s life and her loss – this is the family saga. Then there is a story within the story – the story of the ‘Blind Assassin’, which has elements of fantasy.

(Picture:The Sisters by Abbott Handerson Thayer,1884, Brooklyn Museum)

If you haven’t discovered Margaret Atwood yet, go start with this book. A few words or feelings that describe this book – melancholy, nostalgia, loss and grief, love, truth, lyricism, family dysfunctions, sibling rivalries, surrealism. This is one of those books which I have re-read and I still feel I don’t have a grasp on it, but it always evoked such strong emotions in me. Just one warning: do not expect this to be straightforward or an easy read – that goes for most of Atwood’s works, I guess.

TV Series: Boardwalk Empire

“We all have to decide how much sin we can live with.”

I hated that this show ended after a few seasons while the more ‘showy, plot and twist driven’ shows have gone on forever. You know which ones.

At the most basic level, this show was about Enoc ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a gangster and politician in the Prohibition Era Atlantic City and his immigrant mistress, then wife (Kelly Macdonald). The word ‘gangster’ evokes a feeling that this will be a fast moving, plot oriented, action based show.  Yet, that’s entirely untrue.

This was such a complex character study. Every character was grey and there was an intensive look into their conflicts, fears, insecurities, dreams, and the vulnerabilities of the most violent characters were laid open to the viewer. If I could write an ode to Steve Buscemi’s underrated brilliance, I would. His Nucky was greyer than grey, conflicted and it seemed, that he was looking for a meaning that was either too ephemeral or unreachable
to him. Kelly Macdonald’s Margaret is what I would say was one of the few three dimensional,  ‘unlikable’  women on TV.  I loved her for her un-likability which is what made her human. She was inconsistent, insecure, selfish, overly ambitious and yet, loyal, loving, ‘soft’.  Books have adopted the ‘unlikable woman’ sooner than the screen has, hence this was a great change.

(Picture: McSorley’s Bar by John Sloan, 1912, Detroit Institute of Arts)

Finally, the execution of the show was mesmerizing and deeply immersive – transporting you to the era. From the soundtrack with which I was obsessed with for a long time to the sets, the clothes, the entire experience – everything added to the beauty. Somehow the overt violent and cruel natures of the story and the characters intertwined so well with the
beauty and melancholy underneath the show – the contradiction was what made the show great.

(By Misha)


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