Sunday, April 24, 2016

Storyline Serendipity: The National Gallery in London


The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000; Booker Prize winner)
The Bell by Iris Murdoch (1958; her fourth novel)

Both these novels have sat on my TBR shelf for years and only by happenstance did I read them at the same time this month -- when I took a break from the hardback Atwood chunkster to read the short and lively Murdoch on a plane trip.

I was struck by the serendipity that the heroines in both books visit the National Gallery in London alone, and that these visits are turning points in their personal development.

This coincidence made me realize that, although the stories are completely different, the heroines are cut from the same pattern. Both Dora in The Bell and Iris in The Blind Assassin are beautiful girls lacking formal education, with no ideas of how to support themselves as adults, so end up married too young to men too old for them. Their narcissistic husbands want to mold their new brides to their images of ideal wives, regardless of the women's own interests and desires.

In The Bell, Dora's visit to National Gallery is a break from ping ponging between her husband and her lover and the moment she starts to think for herself.

In The Blind Assassin, Iris spends most of her London honeymoon, while her husband is in business meetings, on sightseeing tours of monuments he arranged for her. Her visit to the National Gallery is her first act of independence and marital rebellion.

Iris's story is much longer and more complex than Dora's. But I wonder if Margaret Atwood read Iris Murdoch's book and it planted a seed?


Have you had the experience of something coming up in a book -- an event, place, idea, historical character, or even an unusual word -- and then shortly after, the same thing comes up in a different book completely by coincidence? I call this Storyline Serendipity.

I don't mean like when you take a class in Russian history and read two books about the Tsar. Or when you read two mysteries and there are dead bodies in each.

I mean random coincidence between two books. I like it when this happens because it makes me slow down and pay more attention to how the event or idea, place or character was treated in each book. I get a little more out of each book than I would have if the universe hadn't paired them on my reading list.

If you experience Storyline Serendipity, feel free to grab the button and play along. If you want to, please leave the link to your post in a comment. Or leave the link to your post on the Rose City Reader facebook page. If you want to participate but don't have a blog or don't feel like posting, please share your serendipity in a comment.

This is a once-in-a-while blog event that I'll post as I come across Storyline Serendipity. If you want to participate, post whenever you want and leave a comment back here on my latest Storyline Serendipity post. If it ever catches on, we can make it a monthly event.

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