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The Robber Bride: A Review

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Have you ever suggested a book that you LOVED, with all caps, to a person and then they either 1) didn’t read it 2) didn’t finish it or 3) hated it?

My first reaction is always indignation. How could you NOT like a book that I LOVED?!

Then I move onto a little embarrassed and self conscience. Oh god, they must think my taste in literature is terrible. What if my taste IS ACTUALLY terrible?

And then of course I never suggest another book to that person ever again and I never bring up the book that shall not be named ever again and the topic is dead, dead, dead.

This situation was kind of the same. Except I hadn’t read The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood before, so instead of being full of confidence I was reading with both my hands figuratively over my eyes, just peeping through the slits between fingers. Oh, and of course there is totally no hard feelings on not being in love with this book, I was not in love with this book, but I am cringing the cringe of a thousand cringes because this is the first real review of any of (my beloved) Atwood’s work on this blog… and it is not going to be stellar.

To be fair and upfront, I did actually like it. Maybe I just have a thing for Atwood’s words, no matter how wordy? I just love her characters, she’s just so GOOD at it. But I do have my issues, and they are kind of major. So let’s get to it.

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This is Allie! She writes at Everyday Adventures and she just recently paid of all but 1 of her student loans. Which is… spectacular. And deserves multiple shoutouts.

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This is Sarah! She is excellent on Twitter, you should follow her @ Saraher. Her twitter photo is…. amazing.

“We could change it to The Robber Bride,” says Tony. “Would that be adequate?”

The Twins five it some thought, and say it will do. The are fond of bridal costumes, and dress their Barbie dolls up in them; then they hurl the brides over the stair railings or drown them in the bathtub.

Allie: I was excited to start this one, because I’ve enjoyed the previous books I’ve read by Atwood (The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid’s Tale), and because the description sounded absolutely delicious — that a conniving woman, Zenia, who has ruined everyone’s lives, has somehow managed to fake her own death, and suddenly reappears into the lives of three souls who thought they were finally going to be at peace. It sounded crazy and dramatic, and like one of those books that will just suck you in. I had high expectations for it.

Sarah: I was a bit nervous because I know Lauren loves Margaret Atwood. I’d read and enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, but wasn’t sure if this book would be similar. This book is told from the (rotating) point of view of three women who met through college and the impact of a fourth woman on their lives (particularly their love lives). 

Lauren: Ha! Sorry about the pressure to love ALL THAT IS ATWOOD. The pressure is probably real and you’re a brave soul, Sarah!

Allie:  I was so disappointed when, 100 pages into the book, we still hadn’t actually found out anything REAL about Zenia, other than the fact that the three main characters (Tony, Charis and Roz) hate her for some reason, presumably having to do with her stealing their husbands/boyfriends. Not knowing the real reason was frustrating because girl-on-girl hate doesn’t necessarily mean that the person being hated is a bad person, or has actually done anything wrong. Eventually she does get around to doing bad things, but in the beginning, I just felt bad for Zenia. I was bored of listening to the other women prattle on about being afraid of Zenia, or not trusting their men with her. Like, did we really need to see the exact same scene from all three of their viewpoints? Zenia walks into a restaurant and sits down. GROUNDBREAKING.

Sarah: The recurring theme for me was strength and how each of the women in the book exhibited a different type of strength. I liked the plot overall. Some of the flashbacks (which then flashed back even further in the middle of the flashback) seemed extraneous and I kept waiting for her to get to the point.

Lauren: The biggest theme I saw was “how women think they need men in order to be their whole selves.” Which … just… BLEW MY MIND. For why is this happening in an Atwood book? Even in the flashbacks the lack of men, or the failings of men were everywhere. And my biggest pet peeve probably in the entire world of pet peeves is the constant hammering of the woman as the viper, preying on poor unsuspecting men. Men are not morons, though that is a pervasive socially acceptable joke. It’s really just a way for men to get off the hook, a way to not own their choices. And as much as this book is also about the bond of female friendship for good or for bad, the consequences for the men in these stories is NOTHING compared to the women. Nothing.

Allie: I was really bothered by both Charis and Roz, as characters, and liked Tony only slightly better. While I enjoyed getting a glimpse at all three characters’ backstories, I found their adult-hood selves to be really frustrating. It drove me crazy that they were willing to accept deadbeat partners and philandering spouses, forgiving them again and again just because they were too blind or too prideful or too subservient to accept that they deserved better. That was the idea I kept coming back to: You deserve better. All of you deserve better.

Sarah: I think she succeeded in telling this story, but it’s one of those books that doesn’t come together until the very end. I think she may have been more successful if she had built some of the foundation earlier rather than dealing with most of the plot in flashback.

Allie: Zenia was almost an afterthought, even though it seemed like the book should have revolved around her! It seemed to be more about Tony’s life, and Roz’s life, and Charis’ life, and then maybe Atwood decided there wasn’t enough meat to it to make it into a book, so we should throw in this one really terrible woman to ruin their lives. Atwood succeeded in telling the story, but I don’t know if it was really a story WORTH telling. I didn’t feel sympathy for any of them.

Lauren: I actually did enjoy the story, I think that’s where I deviate. I really liked puzzling out who these women were and trying to put all the pieces together, figure out their motivation for their actions as adults. And I felt a little more sympathetic towards the characters than Allie did, because I understand what it is like to know someone is not good for you, but when you are with them they make you feel included, part of the cool-kid crowd, they have a way of putting a spell on you. It happens the other way too. There are people who I run across that immediately make me feel small and worthless. Both of these extremes could have me clamoring for their approval, clamoring to do their bidding. Plus, I really enjoy learning about characters, so even though the actual current day story telling only happened over the course of a few weeks at most, the story still felt rich to me. The conflict for these ladies had actually been happening since they are children, it wasn’t just that someone had come back from the dead.

Sarah: I was surprised that I could relate to each of the narrators. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure that would be the case.

Allie: I also wondered, how could Tony/Charis/Roz not see Zenia coming from a mile away? She was clearly a pathological liar, and yet everyone fell for it over and over. They were so willing to accept her lies, never once questioning the things about her that nagged at them. They were so unwilling to say no!

Lauren: I feel you Allie! I actually feel like that about people in real life too “Gah! Really? These same choices all over again? Whhhyyy!”

Sarah: To be honest, it took me a very long time to get into this book because how long it took to build to the main story. I would’ve enjoyed it more if the backstory was filled in earlier, rather than three-quarters through the book.

Allie: I’m sure it’s obvious from my comments, but I really did not like this book. It was really unsatisfying, but I don’t know how it could have been made better. I probably would not recommend The Robber Bride, but I would not hesitate to pick up another of Atwood’s books, considering how much I’ve liked some of her other work. I really hope, for anyone who has not previously read anything by Atwood, that this book does not put you off her other writings.

Lauren: There are better Atwoods, so unless you are a Atwood Freak, like me, don’t waste your precious reading time. Go check out some of her other work. Although, I do have a secret wish that everyone reads it, just so I can have more buddies to discuss it with. The frustration Allie felt was palpable. This would be an awesome In Real Life book club pick. Think of the discussions over a bottle of wine! My god! It could go on for days!

8 Comments

  1. Very good point, Lauren, about how people in real life can make the same bad decisions and we’re more sympathetic to them. Gah, I wish we could have had this discussion in real life! I think it might have helped me to be more sympathetic toward the book overall.

    And I’m sorry I didn’t love this one! But I’m glad I had the chance to participate! :)

    • Don’t feel bad at all! It makes for great discussion. And reading is a solitary adventure, so your impressions were TOTALLY valid. :)

  2. Oh my god. I saw the title and thought, “Nope, never read this one.”

    But then I saw the name Zenia and realized I TOTALLY HAVE READ THIS ONE. Back in college, ages ago.

    I agree with much of what you ladies said in terms of the flaws in this book. It is also crazy to me because post-college I became part of a trio of women who totally had a destructive, toxic Zenia flit in and out of our lives. We allowed it. In perverse ways we welcomed it. And we are all so, so glad to be finished with her now, but it took us years to get to that point. So crazy.

  3. Oooh this disappoints me. This was an Atwood book I was looking forward to reading! Although I have to say… I may still read it. This discussion intrigues me! I want to see what all the fuss is about! Although having known people like this in real life… It may drive me batty.

    Is it wrong that it brings me a bit of satisfaction knowing that even a brilliant writer like Atwood can write a “whomp, whomp” book? ;)

  4. Thank you for linking to that!!

    I, too, ran around the internet reading reviews and getting information on this book while I was getting this post ready (Did you know there was a mini series on Canadian television with Mary Louise Parker as Zenia?!) and some of the points made I could see – about female relationships, and the presence of magic in our every day lives, etc.

    But the opening line of the Salman Rushdie piece is a huge part of my troubles with this book: “A BEAUTIFUL, greedy, ruthless devil-woman enters the lives of three other women, exploits them shamelessly, steals their men, gets bored, moves on.”

    I’m tired of this story line! The evil temptress with all men incapable of avoiding her talons!

    NEW story please. This perpetuates a stereotype that is totally wrong! Of course, I give Atwood a tiny benefit of the doubt – I bet she would say something amazingly poignant and deep if we could ask her directly. But, since reading is a solitary venture – we can’t.

    This book is ripe for book club, seriously. Soooooo many things to discuss.

  5. This book was not one of my favorite Atwoods, but I liked it more then some other folks it seems. I really enjoyed the weaving of the friendship between Tony, Charis and Roz and how it changed over the years. The depiction of Zenia fell flat, but I think it was because we never got her perspective. And all of the men in the book were completely uninteresting.

  6. Ooooh this is a really interesting discussion! I haven’t read this book for years, but the main thing I remember from it was thinking/feeling that the book was not about Zenia AT ALL, but instead about how women react to the idea that another woman is a threat. Zenia is the catalyst but she is not (or she is barely) a character. Instead, she is the explosion, the bomb that goes off in their lives, that reveals their own character to themselves – their weaknesses, their jealousy, their vulnerability… And it’s not that she is necessarily so beautiful/powerful/whatever – it’s that they *believe* that she is, and it’s their belief that gives her power. And that felt very real to me, because I have absolutely had those friendships with other women where they have had a lot of social power, and power to make me doubt myself or expose me as vulnerable – because I gave it to them. Because I believed they mattered more than I believed in myself. Anyway – that’s why I … I’m not sure I would say I enjoyed the book, but I appreciated the book and found it thought provoking and intelligent, because I felt like it fully exposed that aspect of female friendships.

    Other thought – is it possible that the book itself is critical of the women for “needing” the men in their lives, for forgiving them? Like I said, I haven’t read it in a long time – but does it feel like the author justifies this, or more like she subtly critiques it, like she makes them look fairly silly for having that perspective? I genuinely don’t remember, but I remember thinking that their relationships seemed pretty stupid, so *shrugs* could be me, could be the book…

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Who the hell is she?


Lauren

I am a writer living in Seattle and I believe that life is a grand adventure and only boring if you believe it to be. Plus! You don't need money to have fun.

I live with my husband, a photographer by education and a maker-of-video-games by trade, and a baby named gabe in an apartment on the hill.

I am romantic about most things and I cry... about almost anything. I tell stories to entertain you, I spread stories to keep you in the loop. I am not a grammar freak, but I do know how to spell it. I am exceedingly proud of my scrambled eggs and I really could eat an entire pan of cupcakes. If I met me, I would be my best friend. I tend to be irreverent.

If you would like to chat with me or see what else I'm up to you can follow me on Twitter (betterinrealife), on facebook, or email me at betterinrealife at gmail.


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