Reviewed by Christina
It's about: "Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride is inspired by "The Robber Bridegroom," a wonderfully grisly tale from the Brothers Grimm in which an evil groom lures three maidens into his lair and devours them, one by one. But in her version, Atwood brilliantly recasts the monster as Zenia, a villainess of demonic proportions, and sets her loose in the lives of three friends, Tony, Charis, and Roz. All three "have lost men, spirit, money, and time to their old college acquaintance, Zenia. At various times, and in various emotional disguises, Zenia has insinuated her way into their lives and practically demolished them.
To Tony, who almost lost her husband and jeopardized her academic career, Zenia is 'a lurking enemy commando.' To Roz, who did lose her husband and almost her magazine, Zenia is 'a cold and treacherous bitch.' To Charis, who lost a boyfriend, quarts of vegetable juice and some pet chickens, Zenia is a kind of zombie, maybe 'soulless'" (Lorrie Moore, New York Times Book Review). In love and war, illusion and deceit, Zenia's subterranean malevolence takes us deep into her enemies' pasts." (goodreads)
I thought: It's been a few years since I read anything by Margaret Atwood, and I loved getting back into one of her novels. Her writing and character development in The Robber Bride are, as always, excellent. She weaves in these intriguing themes of power, seduction, manipulation, the nature of evil, and the slipperiness of truth. It reminded me a bit of Cat's Eye, revisiting some of the same ideas only this time exploring them within women's relationships rather than young girls'.
But I didn't go gaga over the story like I did with The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. This is a very clever reworking of the Grimm fairy tale, and I certainly wouldn't call it dull or difficult to read. Perhaps it was the structure that I couldn't get into- most of the novel is backstory. As much as I love to read characters' histories, I definitely wasn't being strung along with an amazing plot full of twists and turns. That just isn't the purpose here. It's more of an exploration of the nature of relationships, I think, than a rip-roaring tall tale. The story is carefully, methodically, slowly built.
I can only really complain about the unsatisfying ending. After all that buildup, I wanted more of a Hollywood-style BANG.
Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.
Reading Recommendations: I really enjoyed the wikipedia article about this one. It made me think about things I hadn't noticed, and I wish I had read it before or while reading the book rather than afterwards.
Warnings: sex, including the rape of a child, and swears
Favorite excerpts: “Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it's all a male fantasy: that you're strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren't catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”
“On the whole she fares better with the men, if they can work their way past the awkward preliminaries; if they can avoid calling her "little lady," or saying they weren't expecting her to be so feminine, by which they mean short. Though only the most doddering ones do that any more. If she weren't so tiny, though, she'd never get away with it. If she were six feet tall and built like a blockhouse; if she had hips. Then she'd be threatening, then she'd be an Amazon. It's the incongruity that grants her permission. A breath would blow you away, they beam down at her silently. You wish, thinks Tony, smiling up. Many have blown.”
What I'm reading next: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier