Hello, book club and book enthusiasts! I hope you enjoyed your month, reading The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. You DID read it, didn’t you? I can’t actually hear your answer, as it’s the internet and everything is written, but I’m going to assume the answer was a resounding YES!
Confession time: this is not my first Margaret Atwood. I have read several of her books, and enjoyed them immensely. There seems to be two main themes in her books: dystopian futures of a dogmatic nature, and feminism/female relationships (or in the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, both). The Robber Bride is very much the latter theme. It focuses on the life of three women–Tony, Charis and Roz–and how their lives are impacted by the beautiful and vicious Zenia.
Actually, impacted is too weak a word for what this woman did to them. Zenia was the force that completely altered their lives. For each woman, Zenia came into their lives with a sob story about her past (a different one each time), charmed them, played into their weaknesses, and eventually stole the man in their lives. In the aftermath of Zenia, the
women helped each other rebuild their lives, and became strong friends in the process, despite very different personalities and outlooks on what happened.
The plot is very basic, but the storytelling is all over the place. One thing I found interesting is that while Zenia is the unifying aspect of these women’s lives, the protagonists have very little in common.Two women lost their men forever, one woman’s came back. Two were loners, one is very popular. Two have children, one does not. Atwood goes to great lengths to show that these women are incredibly different, yet all unified in their hatred for the woman that they feel has wrecked their lives.
I say “feel” because upon finishing the book, I was not left with the impression that she wrecked their lives. Sure, she made their lives difficult and brought them hurt and pain, but these are emotions that are experienced in life. If it wasn’t Zenia causing them, it would have been something else. And for all three women, you could argue that she saved them from loveless, abusive relationships, and in the end, they were better off without their men (or changed man, in the case of one of them). One could point out that the women in fact felt this way given how they act towards Zenia at the end of the novel. I know I did when my book club met to discuss this last week. Most did not agree with me.
Another important theme in this book is duality. All three women seem to have an alternate personality, and see themselves as two different women. Tony has a twin that died in utero, and refers to her twin by her name spelled backwards. Charis changed her name from Karen after a traumatic childhood event, and is still haunted by her former self. And Roz starts going by a different name after her father returns from World War II when it becomes safe to use his given name again. This duality is prevalent throughout the novel. The women plan to deal with Zenia in one way, then act a completely different way around her when they see her in the final showdowns of the novel. And as Zenia constructs alternate pasts for herself, you find the line between reality and imagination is constantly blurred throughout the novel.
Some people in my book club argued that the novel seemed to be very anti-man, with some suggesting that it is actually a male bashing novel. I disagree. Certainly the men don’t come off in a positive light in this novel, but that is because frankly, they’re terribly guys. They are weak, selfish, arrogant, and abusive in so many ways towards the three protagonist women. In my opinion, the men deserved what they got. So it is not so much men bashing, as bashing on these particular men.
The Robber Bride is certainly not my favorite Margaret Atwood. It’s a little too long, and the shifting voices throughout the novel made it hard to resonate with any one character. Despite a book full of women, I could not identify with any of them. However, it was a somewhat fast read, and a good reminder that there are many Atwoods that I enjoy immensely.
Up next? The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt on July 25. Support your local bookstore or library and buy/check it out there! And since I know you all read the book along with me, leave your thoughts and comments below!