Book info

The Robber Bride (1998)

The Robber Bride (1998)
Rating
3.8 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0385491034 (ISBN13: 9780385491037)
languge
English
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anchor
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The Robber Bride (1998)
The Robber Bride (1998)

About book: Everybody in this novel has a motive for killing Zenia – and that is the point, or at least, one of the points. Zenia is a dark, malevolent force – one of those people we desire in the dark, middle of the forest nightmare spaces in the black pits of our souls. She is the one who knows our secret desires and who uses them against us to bring about our own undoing. At least, we would like to believe it is our undoing she seeks and that she is the agent that brings it about. But that is the thing about malevolent forces – they are agents of change, and sometimes what seem like evil changes bring about good outcomes.I don’t want to ruin this book for you if you are thinking of reading it. But I think I can get away with saying Zenia works her magic by being a mirror – Atwood even says this at some point towards the end, but I was thinking it most of the way through the book. And mirrors are interesting things, troubling things, dangerous things.There are a number of themes that struck me during this book which I’m going to think about more now with you. Atwood has always been interesting to me, ever since I read The Blind Assassin, although, I liked this one better than that book. I think mainly because I worked out far too early in that one ‘the secret’ and that spoilt it for me. Much like Psycho was ruined for me by my working out the problem with the mother well before the end.One of the things I really liked about this book was Atwood’s way of casually mentioning, before launching off on a story, something key that happens at the end of the tale – I felt like I was doing one of those mazes in a kids’ colouring book – I know where to start and where I’ll end, but how will we get from one to the other? The other thing about knowing the end of a story before the details are filled in – the main point of it, I think – is that we get lashings of dramatic irony. If you know before the story starts that this character’s husband is going to run off with Zenia, well, when she is saying to them both, “No, you two stay here and enjoy yourselves while I go off and bury my head in the sand” you know what a fool she is being taken for. Irony gets piled on irony. This is an interesting pleasure. There was a time when all stories that were told (Macbeth, Oedipus, Lear) were already known by the audience before the play began. This meant that the author could play with dramatic irony – with the audience being brought under the wing of the author as a co-conspirator. And Atwood does exactly this with her readers in this book – and it is a fascinating device.I really like stories that are based on fairytales – though, with smart writers I sometimes struggle with the allusion back to the tale itself, which I assume must be there. The Grimm fairytale that is implied in the title of this one comes in two versions. The first thing we notice is that the sex has been changed. The Robber Bridegroom is someone the bride has been promised to who lives in the middle of the dark woods. He asks his bride-to-be to come to him at his house, but she resists and is terrified of him. He leaves a trail for her to find his house, either in ashes or ribbons. When she does go to him his house is empty except for an old woman who hides and protects the bride. Soon she learns that her husband-to-be is part of a group of thieves who are rather fond of eating women – in the first version of the story a beautiful young woman is devoured, in the other version the princess’s own grandmother. In both versions of the story the bride is hidden behind a barrel when the dead woman who is being prepared to be boiled and eaten has a finger cut off with an axe so that the robbers can steal a ring that is stuck tight on her finger. This finger flies across the room and lands in the lap of the bride behind the barrel. Luckily the robbers give up looking for the finger/ring before they discover the young woman. After their cannibal feast they sleep the sleep of the innocent, so deeply asleep that the young woman can make her escape. In both versions of the story the bridegroom finally comes to marry his bride, but before the service the bride tells him about her ‘dream’. This dream is the story of her visit to his house in the middle of the dark woods and as she tellsthis story he becomes increasingly pale. Once the story is finished he tries to escape, but is soon captured, as are the rest of his troupe of villains, and they are all killed by the appropriate authorities for their wicked deeds. Now, part of me would have thought that telling you that story would in some way ruin – at least in part – the story of The Robber Bride. What surprises me is that there seems to be so few parallels between the fairytale and the tale Atwood composes here.I also wondered what would have happened, how would I have responded to this story, if it had been written by a man? It would have been quite a different story, I think, if Mark Atwood had written it rather than his ‘sister’ Margaret. I would have taken the male writer to have been a sexist old fart. The main proof of this sexism would have been the three main women characters and the ultimate ‘femme fatale’ in Zenia. The three women at the heart of this story are each instances of what it is to be a woman in the 1980s. One is a bit of a tom boy – interested in wars and recreating battles, she also (like Zenia) eats men, if only representations of men as dried beans and such from her mock battle fields. She is logical and analytical – she even has a man’s name, Tony. Then there is the dippy one – the one who sees auras and I sure today would drink wheat grass. The third is the feminist business woman - although this reads like the final twist of the knife (and I think it is very interesting that Zenia attacks both this one’s failing marriage and her failing feminist magazine at much the same time) also interesting is the fact that the person this one turns to when she needs to know how to sort things out is a homosexual. There are lots of interesting things going on in this book about sexuality, gender, and what it is to be a woman – well, and a man, I guess, but much less so. Some of it, as I’ve said, would have meant something quite different if it had been said by a man.The men in this book are all pathetic. So, a fairly accurate portrayal. It is interesting, the woman all know instinctively that if Zenia turns her attention to their partners then there is no question they will be swept away by her – false tits and all. They are powerless to 'protect' their men from her powers.I have relatives who live in Canada – it is something I’ve always known, since I was a child, but have only recently ever met any of these mythic creatures. All the same, Canada has always seemed to me to have been another possible place that my family could have ended up in, a place where another possible me may have grown up. And, let’s face it, the Irish are just perverse enough, when given a choice between sunny Australia and freezing Canada, to choose Canada. What really surprises me – given Canada is also ‘part of the Commonwealth’ is the use of American rather than British constructions. for instance, no Australian or British person would ever say, “Well, she can kiss my fanny”. That is a gesture which is much more intimate here than it is in North America – hint, right general area, but boys don’t have fannies. There are other instances of what I would take to be US English rather than British English that surprised me during this – and I just would have thought British English might have been more likely in Canada than proved to be the case.There are awful parts of this story – bits that are horrible and painful – just as there are in all fairytales. But I liked how this one ended and was relieved, as the meaning of Zenia, even to the characters, was not allowed to remain quite as simple as seemed might be the case at early parts in the story.Part of us longs for someone like Zenia – oh, we deny it, of course, but if there are to be dark forces in our universe, well, surely these forces would spend their time trying to work out how to make our lives a misery. We are self-centred enough to believe that is true. But what if the devil actually couldn’t care less about us? Or worse, what if the havoc the devil caused in our lives was actually for our own good – so we could learn an important lesson?Atwood is an interesting writer, always in control – always playing, and some of her metaphors are worthy of poetry rather than prose. Zenia is a liar, but Atwood is the consummate liar here – for isn’t that what a fiction writer is? – And isn’t every work of art, every work of fiction, a testament to the power of its creator to spin her web of lies? Disturbing, intelligent, confronting and multilayered – what more could you ask for in a novel?

SpoilersThis was a one of kind sort of book where I pretty much hated all the characters because of their ridiculous and irritating ways yet everything about them and their fucked up lives was utterly engrossing. I didn't think it was possible to enjoy a book that contained so many rage inducing characters. -Even though I LOATHED most of the characters and didn't find their actions remotely realistic they were for the most part weirdly fun to read about.-Really liked how the story was structured with the back and forth narrative in time/characters. Also, enjoyed the gradual revealing and unfolding of how the protagonists (Roz/Tony/Charis) became friends, how they got to the point where they were at, why they had a mutual hatred of the mythical Zenia, what Zenia did to them, and the whole mystery of Zenia in general. -All three of the main female characters (Tony, Roz and Charis) were awful, I hated their misogyny and their relationships with and attitude towards men.I wasn't sure which one of the three protagonist irritated me the most, Tony with her molly coddling and servile attitude towards her husband, Roz with her sexist and judgemental attitude of women, or Charis with her patheticness.On the whole the female characters were either simpering martyrs, judgemental-female-hating twits, absolutely bonkers, complete doormats or evil-opportunistic-soulless-whores.-The male characters were no better than the female, they were all so weak and slimy. I rolled my eyes at the general vibe the protagonists had of how their men had to be protected from the female sex because they were such innocent, breakable, little puppies with no minds of their own and women were all predatory and evil. Ugh.There were no male or female characters who had morals, self-respect, open-mindedness or backbone. -Loved getting to know about Zenia and how she wormed her way into Tony/Roz/Charis's life by lying, charming and manipulating them. I had to laugh at how easily Zenia 'seduced' their men, it really didn't take much for them to chase after Zenia and leave their wives/family. I don't know why Zenia was blamed for literally everything though when their men more than played their part in destroying their marriages.-Why on earth would Tony take back her husband after all he'd done? He left her for Zenia and lived with her for over a year and then when he was dumped, Tony just let him waltz back into her life without any questions, grovelling, or explanations. Not only that she tip-toed around her husband and acted like an utter doormat. He was the one who was in the wrong in leaving her for another woman, cheating on her, loving someone else more than her, and not caring about her, yet Tony was the one who acted like she'd done wrong. Also, why was she so cool with being second best to Zenia? She knew her husband loved Zenia far, far more than her and would dump her if she ever wanted him back again but for some unfathomable reason that didn't piss her off, upset her or bother her in any way. Why would anyone be happy with a partner that was crazy in love with someone else and would leave them without a second thought if they could have another chance with their first choice? I didn't get it. Why would Tony still want him after all he'd done? They didn't even have kids to tie them together, and it wasn't like she couldn't find someone else or even be happy alone. Why wasn't she pissed at him? Why did she blame Zenia for everything? It wasn't as if her husband wasn't more than willing to leave her and cheat on her without once looking back, she acted as if he had no control of himself whatsoever and couldn't make decisions for himself. Ugh, Tony's reaction to him and his affair was unreal.-Roz was an utter cow. Her attitude towards other women was disgusting, there wasn't one she didn't think badly of in some way or another. The way she bitched about her son's girlfriends and her husband's lovers was vile. She still thought well of her husband despite all his cheating yet all the women he slept with were irredeemable nobodies. Ugh, she basically thought all women were vultures and men were just confused little puppies who couldn't help being led astray by the womenfolk.-I guess Charis was the most tolerable out of the three, but even she was annoying as hell. Her decades long obsession with Billy was so far-fetched, she hadn't even been with him that long, plus he treated her like crap for most of their relationship (at least Tony's husband was kind to her when they were together, whereas Billy was plain abusive, so why would she miss him?). I couldn't believe she was unable to move on from him when in the grand scheme of things he hadn't actually been in her life for very long. Even when Zenia told her how much of loser and low life he was she was still protecting him. It made no sense.-It was mind boggling how all of three them were so cool with their husbands cheating on them, leaving them and falling in love with someone else. They were so forgiving, they didn't even want an apology, they were fine with taking them back despite knowing they'd always be second best. I could maybe accept that attitude if they were living in the olden days but they weren't, they could have easily survived on their own and met new people. It was all so bizarre how they reacted to their husbands cheating, lies, and betrayal.-From all the characters Zenia was the most likeable, despite her betraying her friends by sleeping with their husbands and running away them, at least she wasn't some doormat who let the men in her life walk all over. Unlike Charis, Roz and Tony who were all simpering idiots that were so desperate to keep hold of their men that they took them back without question or apology after being so thoroughly destroyed and hurt by them. Their desperation and weakness for the spineless men in their life was beyond ridiculous. They had no self respect or dignity and they acted like oppressed women who had no choice but to depend on the men in their life. Tony and co didn't need their men for anything yet they were still afraid to lose the cheating, lying, useless, uncaring pigs. It was as if they were no other men in the world or as if they couldn't be happier alone than stuck with a cruel, disloyal husband who would always love someone else better. I really didn't get it.-Loved the confrontation in the last section between Zenia and the girls. Even after all Zenia had done she still had the upper hand, I was expecting Tony and co to put her in her place and deliver some home truths but they never did. Zenia was the one who scorned them and showed them up for being so thick and idiotic about their men.I wanted Charis/Tony/Roz to realise that Zenia actually did them a favour by 'taking' their men but it didn't seem to click with them.. They were still blaming her for their ruined relationships when it was actually their men who were most at fault for straying.-Why were all the men so weak and cowardly? They all fell for Zenia even though they were in committed relationships. Why would they risk so much for a cheap affair/lust? -What was with Charis's healing powers? I thought she was just deluded or had an over-active imagination or something but then she healed Roz and had that vision? Was Roz just imagining Charis's healing? Was it a coincidence that Charis guessed Zenia's death? Or did she have something to do with it?-The negative portrayal of both the male and female characters was so insulting, maybe that was the point.. A commentary of sorts on the double standards with the whole demonizing of women and excusing men of any bad they do. Hmm, I'm still not sure.Even though I LOATHED the way the female and male characters were written, I can't deny that I was thoroughly entertained and intrigued by the plot, the characters and the relationships. I'll definitely be reading more Margaret Atwood in the future.
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Reviews
Leanne (Booksandbabble)
This book is set in the early 90's Toronto and also the 1940's and 1960's. Each decade witnesses major world events such as World War 2, the Vietnam war, and the beginning of the Gulf war and recession. There is an element of unrest and unease from the beginning of this novel and it is with these events playing out on the world stage that we meet our characters. Tony,Roz and Charis come together to lunch, in 90's Toronto, in a restaurant called 'Toxique'. We are introduced to them in turn and find out that though they are each very different, they have remained good friends for a particular reason. Each woman has been hurt, manipulated and betrayed by another woman,Zenia, now believed to be dead but who, we soon find out, is very much alive and kicking. The three ladies leave the restaurant in total shock and the narrative then takes us to the defining moment in their lives when they first encountered Zenia. However, the narrative does not stop there it also takes the reader back further into the past and we witness the horrors and disappointments of their childhoods. The Robber Bride focuses heavily on mother-daughter relationships and shows the marks and scars it has left on the three women. Due to their negative pasts Tony, Charis and Roz have created another self and each woman has a split personality of sorts, which helps them deal with their lives and themselves as individuals. After reading about each of their childhoods, the reader can understand why they have allowed themselves to be taken in by Zenia and her lies. Each woman wants to fill a space, or an emptiness within them and Zenia, with all her skills, knows exactly how to worm her way in and be the person that can fill that void. The character of Zenia is a mystery, she tells three different tales of her childhood,and lies and manipulates with such ease. We never learn what her modus operandi is and that is one of the interesting parts of this novel. The Robber Bride is a wonderful novel the about rich inner lives of woman and the conflict fought in everyday life and not just on the battlefield. I highly recommend it.
Aubrey
It's books like these that makes my rarely flouted 'always finish' rule earn its keep, for it often takes going through the entirety of any work for the meshing gears of personal reception to reveal themselves to my own perception. Granted, it didn't do a very good job of serving as inspiration for one of my more creative frenzies, but it was a decent whetting stone for my analytic ability without pissing me off too much, so reading it in tandem with The Second Sex was not such a horrible mistake after all. Reading the works simultaneously definitely negatively affected my evaluation of this one, but the work was mildly entertaining when I wasn't hell bent on deconstructing it to its most basic of constituents, which counts for something.I will admit, I went into this looking for the Atwood of The Handmaid's Tale, but never fear, I found better reasons for my tepid reaction than thwarted expectations. One of these is a simple mechanic of any sort of fiction, in that most of if not all of its success with an audience lies in its talents for deception, suspension of disbelief if you will for folks keen on key terminology. In Handmaid's Tale, I was astounded by the powerful usage of metaphor in all its macabre forms, enough to feel threatened by these clusters of ink lying limply spread over dead white plains. Thus I was emotionally invested enough with this story to not care about whatever contrivances of plot, character, and other components of fiction the author chose to utilize in crafting their work.This book did not pull that off. While I'll admit to finding bits and pieces of it interesting and/or amusing, the emotional pull was not enough to distract me from seeing it as a collection of stereotypes that happened to resonate with my own personal characteristics. Seeing as how this is how most fiction is generated and how I have not yet sworn off of stories completely despite my rapid intake, I wondered what else was off.This is where The Second Sex comes in and all of its wonderful analysis of woman and all of her facets, including a large section on the figure in fiction and the popular consigning of her to the category of 'mystery'. It turns out that this is a major pet peeve of mine, and without my knowing at the time was a theme that bugged me during my reading of Rebecca. What both that book and this have in common is the subsuming of the entire story in the viewpoint(s) of one or many female characters, one which looks out on a world from a perspective well-adjusted to the expectations of men and woman, and finds within its gaze a female who chooses to break these ideological standards and use them as tools for her own gain. Both of these females provide the only sense of plot advancement, as well as the only truly uniqueness of character, a source of unknown and mysterious complexity in the world of The Robber Bride where the women coddle in silent suffering their hapless men and innocently wondrous children. Admittedly, there are only three women to view the world from, but all three seemed extremely predictable in their thought patterns, as if nature did nothing but grant selves well-adjusted to the current state of society's expectations of the female role and left nurturing to fill in the quirks that would differentiate them from everyone else. All this building up of all too easily explained characters, while the most interesting is left to wallow as an unfathomable conundrum. A mark of laziness, in my mind. Oh, and the only decent males who don't fall into the 'hell hath no fury like a man offended' category are gay. Go figure.In conclusion, I may have issues with well-adjusted characters in general, and should just come to grips with the fact that not everyone is going to care about the bigger picture in context with their own lives, and as a result are perfectly happy going along with a preconceived toolbox that is never truly pushed into civil war. That doesn't diminish the fact that nothing distracted me from focusing so much on the more unsatisfying aspects of the story. Not the imagery, not the plot, no deep insight into the human condition, no novel ways of conveying information that sometimes result in a faint feeling of omniscience and more often in a migraine, not even overwhelming bleakness that leaves me rocking in the corner in states that I really should be more careful about. Nadda. Just a few traces of entertainment and a bit more knowledge about Canada and various historical conflicts. And more experience with analyzing gender stereotypes, I suppose. That's always useful.
Sarah
Update: This review recently got a few likes, bringing it back to my attention. But, honestly? I'm ashamed of it. Because, I'm trying to pretend evil women don't exist. Zenia is obviously an exaggeration...but women and girls do awful things to each other. All the time.Back in school, I was horribly bullied by girls. Horribly. They'd hit me, shove me against the wall, walk up behind me and pull my skirt up above my waist, trip me as I was getting off the bus. Why do I pretend those things didn't happen? Female solidarity?We put "bad girls" on a pedestal. But we shouldn't. They're not heroes. They're jerks.Thank you, Margaret Atwood, for telling the truth.And, now that I have, maybe I can get some sleep!Original review:This book became more and more engrossing as I went along, and I kept changing my mind about it. Here, we're introduced to four women: Tony the detached intellectual, Charis the sensitive earth mother, Roz the hardy businesswoman, and Zenia the femme fatale. That alone makes for an interesting creative experiment, "The Golden Girls" in literary form. (Who knew Blanche Devereux could be so mean?)Underneath that, it's actually a book about our fears, how they manifest and where they originate. It's about the function and folly of persona. It's about the relationship between the past and the present. Atwood can be very dark and very cynical. Very, very. I disagree with the general consensus that women come off worse than men, overall, as the men in the book are philanderers, pedophiles, and war criminals, the lot of them. Zenia, herself, is less a character than a mirror held to the characters, stirring up their psyches and serving as a common focus between them.The prose isn't as lovely as that in "The Handmaid's Tale" though is still quite good. And, I've made a new friend in Charis. (Margaret, you were dreadful to her!)
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