Updated on May 19, 2015
50. ‘The Robber Bride’ by Margaret Atwood
Obviously Margaret Atwood is brilliant. I’ve read three of her novels now (is that all?) and she is consistently engaging, complex and twisted enough to make her (often hefty) novels absolutely fly by. The Robber Bride is no exception. Once again Atwood proves that she is an established writer who knows how to tell a great story – and a long one – without dropping the pace.
The Robber Bride is a story primarily about women: there are plenty of absent and unfit mothers, women falling in love with men and then forming lasting friendships with each other. The men are, for the most part, secondary characters, tossed about (and sometimes torn apart) by the women in their lives.
Tony, Charis and Roz all lived in the same hall at university. Now, in their adulthood, they are firm friends brought together by their common past and their shared encounters with a woman called Zenia. At first Zenia is an enigma – unknowable – but as the book progresses we learn that she is dark and fearsomely manipulative. And she has messed with these three women’s lives for the sheer hell of it.
The first section of the book describes Tony, Charis and Roz’s mornings as they get ready for lunch together at a café. Little do they know that Zenia – whose funeral they recently attended – is about to walk through the door, very much alive. The rest of the book delves into each of the three women’s histories, from their childhood, to their first meetings with Zenia, to their most recent encounters with her. The amount of detail we learn about these three women is immense, which just serves to contrast how little we really know about Zenia.
That’s the thing with this book: it probably should be boring. Or at least lose its interest a little. The idea of pages of back story and in-depth descriptions of daily routines might sound dull on paper, but in Atwood’s talented hands it becomes fascinating material, filled with twists and turns and insights that will make you want to keep reading.
Of course, the character of Zenia is an absolute delight. Not to meet, of course (I hope I never meet anyone like her), but she certainly makes fascinating reading. She is at the centre of a war that she is fighting against everybody else, whether they want to fight her or not. She’s anarchic and completely out for herself: reading a character like that can only be delicious.
Once again, Atwood delivers. This novel doesn’t follow her usual sci-fi bent, but it is an intriguing character study of three knowable women and one mysterious one.
Why not read the book and let me know what you think?