In high school our class read The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. A dystopian novel set in a totalitarian imagined future America where, apart from the ‘Handmaids’ the population is infertile. It was the first dystopian novel I had read and it opened me up to a whole new genre; 1984; The Children of Men, The Hunger Games (seriously, I loved it). It’s a genre I really enjoy and The Handmaid’s Tale was the start of that. So I always knew I wanted to read more by Margaret Atwood and The Robber Bride confirmed I was right to.
The Robber Bride follows the stories of three women in their fifties, brought together by a mutual acquaintance, Zenia. Zenia works her way back in to each of their lives, by preying on their vulnerabilities and then moving in on their men, leaving varying levels of destruction in her wake.
Before even opening this book, you’re introduced to Zenia. The cover shows a well dressed, beautiful woman with flaming red hair and deep red lips, she’s looking away from the viewer and her eyes are not in frame alluding to the mysterious and dissociated character she is going to become. The reader and the other characters never get a true picture of Zenia.
Zenia is someone who taps into your dark side, those secret thoughts and underlying desires and she exploits them. She is beautiful and daring and when her light is reflected on you, she is someone who you want to be, or who you want to be with. This point is summed up for me by Roz. Roz is a middle aged CEO and mother of three.
“Then she [Zenia] turned to go down the steps, lifting her hand in a gesture oddly reminiscent of a newsreel general saluting the troops, and what was it she’d said? Fuck the third world! I’m tired of it!
So much for proprieties, so much for earnest old Roz and her poky, boring charities, her handouts to the Raped Moms and Battered Grannies, and, at the time, the whales and the famine victims and the village self-helpers, dowdy plump mommy Roz, shackled to her boring old consciousness. It was a selfish, careless remark, a daring remark, a liberated remark–to hell with guilt!”
It’s this sort of devil may care attitude that Zenia exhibits that wreaks havoc on the lives of our three main characters. Zenia unashamedly takes advantage of their hospitality and runs off with their men.
“Extreme good, extreme evil: the abilities required are similar.”
All three characters are with weak and pathetic men. Roz’s husband sleeps around and then comes crawling back, over and over again. Charis’ boyfriend freeloads off her and Tony’s husband doesn’t really see her, his greatest love is Zenia. I think the sisterhood created by their shared trauma at the hand of Zenia is one of the most positive aspects of the story.
I liked seeing these women grow and change and come together. They are all very different personalities, Charis, a spiritual hippy type, Tony, a tomboy and historian and Roz, a socialite and business woman. Their worlds are so different they may never have crossed paths if it wasn’t for Zenia, through their shared history they become a mini support group for each other.
Another aspect of these characters is that they are all very normal, they have pretty standard jobs and run of the mill relationship and family problems and Atwood’s writing really takes you into their heads. It means that even the reader, who already knows that Zenia is spinning a web of lies, get’s seduced by her.
Margaret Atwood is a fantastic writer and I plan on reading more of her work in future.