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.
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.
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!