Saturday, April 16, 2016

Thinking about Sisters...The Nightingale and The Blind Assassin

I recently read two books that feature sisters, and I was struck with how closely they followed the pattern established by Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility in which you have an older pragmatic, mostly sensible sister (Elinor Dashwood) whose passions run deep and silently contrasted with a younger, impulsive, heart-on-her sleeve sister (Marianne Dashwood).

In Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, Iris is the older sister who is pressured into marrying a rich stick and Laura is the younger sister who is Marianne to the core, but never learns the lessons of moderation that Marianne ultimately does learn in S&S.

In Kristin Hannah's most recent novel, The Nightingale, set in WWII France, you have Vianne as the older sister who stays on the farm and compromises virtually everything of value to her in order to keep herself and her child alive during the German occupation.  Her younger sister, Isabelle, like Laura from The Blind Assassin, is Marianne by another name and in another time. Virtually unable to not utter every thought, she falls in love with danger and willingly risks everything in order to live according to her ideals.

Of course, there is more to both books than simply following the S&S sister model but in a way it sort of undercut the freshness of both.  I must say, though, that I enjoyed The Nightingale far more than The Blind Assassin, which thought I well-written, but was a chore to read, probably because it was so bleak and tried so hard to be innovative that there were parts were I literally did not know what was happening and to whom.

Perhaps Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield (Elinor and Marianne from my favorite adaptation of S&S) will be cast as Viane and Isabelle in the upcoming film version of The Nightingale.  I must say, it will make a terrific movie.  Kept me on the edge of my seat and moved me to tears in parts.


  1. Never liked Margaret Atwood - still don't. She has a presence in Toronto and attends many "literary " gatherings.

    1. Thanks for letting me know, Colin. I was wondering whether you were a fan.

  2. Great post.

    It is interesting, I am currently reading Sense and Sensibility for the first time. The pattern that you mention regarding sisters can really be conducive to creating compelling plots and characters.

    I love Margaret Atwood and I really want to read the Blind Assassin.

  3. I've enjoyed several of Margaret Atwood's novels, but have never been tempted by The Blind Assassin. The Nightingale is waiting on my kindle... hope I can read it before a movie is released. Sense and Sensibility is always a treat :)

  4. I've got The Blind Assassin (somewhere?) but really had no clue what is was about, just picked it up because of it being by Atwood. Sounds like something I want to hold off on until I'm ready for something that makes me work to read it. The Nightingale was something I've steered away from, I think from concern that it might be emotionally manipulative. But I keep hearing such great things about it, I think I might have to change my tune!

  5. I've read both Sense and Sensibility and The Blind Assassin, but that was years ago and the details, particularly of Atwood's book are vague in my mind. I do remember that I was puzzled by The Blind Assassin, not knowing what was happening at times. I really would like to re-read both of them - if only there weren't so many other books I want to read and now I've added The Nightingale to my list of TBRs, because it does sound good.

  6. Yeah I've heard the Blind Assassin is a chore. I think I will bypass that Atwood story. Perhaps that's why I like her shorter tales. I like your themes of sisters in this post. The novel I just read The Invention of Wings also includes sisters. The movie of The Nightingale does sound good.

  7. Wonderful post! I love the illuminating comparisons, really takes the appreciation to the next level. I didn't get through The Blind Assassin and in the end, I didn't want to, but it's interesting to see how the types Austen created can subtly appear even in an experimental writer like Atwood. Have you read Cat's Eye? My favorite of hers. It deals with girls' relationships--mean girls with a supernatural or psychological twist, depending on your interpretation. I am curious to try The Nightingale.