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The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

The Robber Bride

by Margaret Atwood

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,306114965 (3.83)1 / 516
  1. 40
    Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood (sturlington)
    sturlington: One book is about friendship among girls, the other about friendship among women.
  2. 11
    One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Rayner (Pedrolina)
    Pedrolina: Stories of women's friendship, loss and moving on.

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English (110)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (114)
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“Just because there's a silence it doesn't mean that nothing is going on.”

Beautiful, smart, greedy and ruthless Zenia enters the lives of three other women exploiting them, stealing their men before getting bored and then moving on to the next leaving each woman emotionally devastated. Out of the blue they hear that she has apparently died. They are elated at their rival's demise and even attend her funeral just to make sure. Despite their precautions five years on they are shocked when their erstwhile rival walks in to the restaurant where they are sharing a meal, once again disturbing their seemingly sedate lives.

In many respects this is a modern fairy tale where the evil witch causes mayhem and thus must face a final reckoning. She seems to have a magical power over men and even appears to get ever more attractive as she grows older. However, it is also the story of an unlikely friendship between three very different grown-up women whose only common connection is their dislike of Zenia. This book suggests that the pain and heartache that women inflict upon one another is far worse than whatever men can cause them.

Each of the three victims have their back stories told in roughly equal hundred-page sections making each feel like an interlocking novella. All three have emerged from unhappy families and childhoods where in particular they had a very fractious relationships with their own mothers. Unscrupulous Zenia learns their secrets by pretending to be their friend and then sets out to use them to her own malevolent ends. She uses the others trust as the weapon against them. There is no line she will not cross, she is just pure evil.

In contrast the men in the novel are largely peripheral. Each are selfish but their one real power is to cause anguish to the women who love them. This they do by falling for Zenia's charms before they themselves are discarded by her.

The story is one of domestic and emotional violence rather than one with any great catastrophes. It is beautifully written and each character is wonderfully created. If I have one complaint it is that you never get to know Zenia's own back story. What caused her to be the way she is? Is it nurture or nature? She casts a dark shadow over the characters' lives but is also as nebulous as one too. She is, however, a credible monster if a somewhat opaque one. An enjoyable read but perhaps not a great one IMHO. ( )
  PilgrimJess | May 19, 2018 |
Three woman, Tony, Charis, and Roz are brought together in college where they encounter and become entangled with Zenia, a character portrayed by their perspective as a gorgeous, intelligent, seductively powerful woman who is able to charm, intrigue, and also devastate.

She becomes for them a shared obsession, a catalyst and anchor to their friendship that investigates the wounds of their pasts, the pain and realism of their relationships with men, and a direct accusation of their identities.

Tony, renamed for Antoinette, was as she considered herself a “war baby” having been born to parents who had come together in the time of war, literally and emotionally. The exuberance of her mother bewildered her and the emotional absence of her father in her younger years formed her introspective and insecure nature. Though she was highly intelligent as a child, she understood this to be a secretive force and not easily accepted in girls. Instead, she created for herself a secret language where she could reverse the spelling of words and create new ones, ones that only she, herself, could understand, but could not communicate with others. Tony was raised as a solitary creature, coerced to delve internally to depend on her own imagination for survival. Later, her mother had left her and her father for another man, the first of many, until she dramatically met her demise by committing suicide by jumping off a boat. Tony was left then to witness the emotional unravelling of her father who had become lost in the devastation of being left behind and rejected for another, lost to alcohol, and to the daunting and confusing role of raising a child on his own, much less, a girl, of which he knew nothing about. Though her father had in some way yearned to become a better father figure to her, not only was Tony already hardened and closed off to her family history and to the world, but her father was also unable to communicate his fatherhood and his love to her. He did not have a language of his own to draw from without her mother, nor did he understand how to reach Tony’s language. She was, as her mother was to both of them, beyond him.

Charis, literally renamed by individual choice and by the eventual duality of her personality, was originally Karen. Early on, she was raised by a mentally, unstable, single mother who physically and emotionally abused her because of her bipolar personality and refuted her own rural roots and disowned her mother. Karen was left to be periodically passed between her Aunt Vi, a self-righteous, unloving woman who had scorned both her mother and her sister, but agreed to take Karen in for the sake of recognition -- and her grandmother, a fiercely strong and independent woman in the crux of her spiritual giftedness, ostracized by the community she lived in, and isolated in the foliage of farm life. Karen had inherited this same giftedness of "other" spirituality and "otherness", being able to visually see colours of aura and foresee true events. Her grandmother, though brittle and tough in her tone towards Karen, taught her the nature of survival through the gifts of nature itself, from simple, hard work found in basic chores, to caring for animals, identifying herbs and foliage for healing, and how to be guided by pin and Bible readings. Later, Karen’s grandmother is sent away to live in a nursing home from her failing health due to old age and Karen is shipped off to live with her Aunt Vi and her husband, her sweaty, over-eager uncle. She lives with them permanently until she comes of age and is ready to go to college. Her time with her aunt is emotionally stifling, feeling unloved, unappreciated, and almost always resented. Her relationship with her uncle evolves into one of physical abuse and molestation much to Karen’s horror and her Aunt Vi’s obtuse denial and blame. It is through this process that the "Karen" of this character's personality shuts down entirely and “leaves her own body” as a form of survival, and in her place becomes another person who she births and names, “Charis,” stemming from the virtue, charity. She hardens against her aunt and uncle as expected, but also creates for herself an identity, solace, and empowerment through the memory and power of her grandmother who later dies, and her own personal, spiritual giftedness. She welcomes the use to read the colours of aura, to practice meditation, visual self-healing, and the power to foresee events, including the prophetic death of her biological mother in the institution where she was left years ago to cope with her life and the dilemna of Zenia.

Roz, formerly Rosalind, was raised by a business-and-tough-minded, nagging mother who ran a strict boarding house in the absence of Roz’s father who she was told was a soldier in the war. Roz’s displacement began at school when she was identified literally as a “DP,” a “displaced person” because of her ethnic race and religious heritage – her mother, though she sent Roz to Catholic mass on Sundays, was herself, a practicing Protestant, and her father absent for most of her childhood also remained ethnically ambiguous for most of her life until he was later revealed to her as being Jewish. Later, once her father returned with her new “uncles” – those who had helped her father during the war, though this too, this help seems also ambiguous – he influenced her both in shrewd business skills and street smarts. His own identity is multi-layed if not duplicated and deceitful. He was what people considered a "fixer" during the war, committing war crimes, theft, and other illegal acts to not only survive, but thrive financially. Rosalind and her family quickly shifted from small business owners to powerful tycoons, which provided her with a life of material luxury, privilege, and excess.

Zenia, the focal point of these women’s obsession and fear, in her own right was what they perceived: intelligent, seductive, charming, disarming, and powerful. Her hypnotic power to allure, convince, and control those she encountered to her advantage were inexplicable except for the results she incurred and the obvious talent that the three women seemto always allot her. They all hated her, feared her, but loved her, too, somehow wishing they could somehow be a little bit more like her.

This may explain the attraction Zenia found in choosing her victims. She needed them as much as they needed her. On one level, they all lacked something they felt that Zenia possessed, which is why they felt flattered to even be noticed by her. On the same level, Zenia in turn, not only desired to control, besiege, and violate her so called friends, she must have found some solace in their desire to be with her, to be around her, to live lives so ordinary and without what she felt to be complication, that she felt more secure in their worship of her and in the power she held over them, not only for the power in itself, but for the collegiality she has never been able to create inin her life. How can you create genuine relationships if the basis of your relationships are founded on lies, distrust, and betrayal?

If Tony, Charis, and Roz were considered women with a wounded past, Zenia is the woman of no past, having been victimized herself into compulsive lying, con artistry, and identity invention and crisis. She fabricated herself differently for different people. She was more than a chameleon, she was a mirror. She became whatever and whomever her victim desired, admired, and wanted her to be for them, in order to gain superficial friendship and trust. Once this was given, slowly and surely, she stretched the boundaries of what her relationships and the people who were in these relationships could ultimately provide for her, not regardless of whether or not she hurt them -- but because shecould hurt them. And she did. Violently. At most times, it was not merely to obtain financial, sexual, or relational benefits, but a contest of how far people were willing to subjugate themselves to abuse and how far Zenia herself, could, and often most times, would succeed.

To Tony, she provided friendship, an intellectual partnership, a social makeover, promise of an exciting, new life, and mothering. But to Zenia, such provisions don’t come easily, nor do they come for free. Her cost was deceit, betrayal, and man-stealing, as well as man and/or woman-eating. Her cost was torture and pain. A little blood. A lot of crying. She was able to convince Tony to provide her with large amounts of cash and then was able to seduce and steal Tony’s one love interest, Stew/West. Later, when she is faced with Tony again after years and magnitude of betrayal, Zenia shows, nor feels any remores, which shows just how audacious and quite possibly how evil she really is.

Yet, in the cruelty of how Zenia treats people, and though her own personal identity is a complete fabrication, she is gifted in somehow diffusing, distilling the utter and cruel truth of her victim’s weaknesses. She says, or rather spits her accusations with such cold, cruel, and hard viciousness, that they are not only wicked, but also extremely painful because her insight is also deadly true.

The fact that she was a man-eater by nature and beguiled Tony’s partner, Stew/West proved to show men’s weakness to her sexual prowess, but also her rival’s weakness to her charm -- in this case, Tony’s weakness to Zenia, her fantasy of her, in allowing herself to be so complacent. I don't know if I find the truth in this type of outcome. I think a real woman with passion and love for a man, would fight. Heck, a real woman wouldn't need the excuse to fight because and for a man, but would fight for her own self-integrity. I would! Intentionally use me, hurt me, and hurt those I love because of selfish reasons based on the premise of ludicrous lies -- and watch out! Who do you think would eat who? Certainly not someone like Zenia. Not only Zenia.

In Tony’s situation, however, Stew/West actually evolved in his relationship with her, moving from a platonic one to a romantic one because of his destructive relationship with Zenia. Though Zenia is deemed Tony’s destroyer, she has also indirectly done her a favour and in this sense can also be seen as her provider of love and partnership and self-preserving saviour. Though, saviour might be going a little to far. Okay, not a little, but a lot. Nevertheless, it clear that Tony needs some saving.

The same pattern can be said for Charis’ relationship with Billy. Billy was an unemployed fugitive who neither respected nor loved Charis, but used her extensively for what she could provide for him, namely, a roof over his head, food, clothes, babying, anonymity, and sex. A lot of sex, so much so, that sex with Billy was referred by Charis as "her body being a trampoline." Notice the first syllable in that word. I don't think the word choice was accidental. Once Billy was out of the picture because of Zenia’s influence and scheming, Charis was able to eventually renounce marginal poverty, non-hygienic living, naïve emotional dependency, despondency, and silence to the injustice of not receiving her rightful inheritance from her dead grandmother.

Roz, too, though Mitch, her husband, was a constant adulterer throughout their marriage, Roz chose neither to acknowledge, accuse, nor vindicate his infidelity, and finally it was through the attraction and obsession of Mitch with Zenia, that he was not able to return to financial and emotional grace as provided to him by Roz for many, undeserving years, even though Zenia had grown tired of him and no longer deemed him necessary or useful. Roz was the breadwinner of the marriage and provided Mitch with a secure, financial life with non-deserved privilege, not to mention, tolerance of the most basic betrayal, infidelity. And yet, though Roz was continually abused in this way, she for many years, accommodated her husband’s abuse, not demanding more respect for herself as a person, as a woman, or as a wife. Try committing adultery on a theoretical tycoon with loads of money and see what what'll happen to you. I'm poor, and trust me, it wouldn't happen more than once, if at all. So there! The relationship between Mitch and Zenia finally dissolved because he was ejected, rejected, and dejected by Zenia. And because of this, his own emotional and physical destruction by suicide seemed a fair punishment, if not justification, or trade. And even though Zenia was able to bamboozle Roz out of thousands of dollars through forgery, Roz in the end resulted in owning a new, re-branded, and money-making magazine at the credit of Zenia’s ingenuity and “people” skills.

I think the lies that Zenia felt compelled to create were not only fictions, but her only way to fictionalize a truth for herself. There is a subtle hint, a tiny one, if you’re able to catch it after Zenia’s death that mentions she has requested a portion of her assets be sent to “some orphanage” in her will. Though it wasn’t confirmed, perhaps the only truth in Zenia’s history is that she needed to create multiple ones because she had none. She had no history to call her own. She had no story. Her compulsion to create elaborate sketches of personalities and life experience deemed from a hidden and hungry need to be someone – anyone. She was an orphan to the world, a lost nomad with a wound so deep within her that all she could provide to others was darkness and pain. She was death incarnate. She was as powerful and as mysterious as that. But at the same time, she was so dark and so cruel -- so devastating, that she was also pathetic. And so desperate for life, she preyed on those she felt had more of a life than she had – but not enough of a life -- to live without her.

It’s a dark, subversive book full of anguish and torment. But it’s intelligent enough to investigate the true nature of the battle of the sexes, the strength and endurance of true friendship, and the psyche of one’s self through life experience. In the end, though the three women, Tony, Charis, and Roz had always felt unworthy and self-deprecating because of and in comparison to Zenia, the friendship they share that span a substantial amount of time, hardship, and intimacy (also because of their shared destruction at the hands of Zenia)—is their ultimate victory over her. They live on. They have each other. They have lived as truthfully as they can to their histories. They continue to desire to learn from them.

This can and never will be said of Zenia. Not by anyone that knew her. Because no one did. And though she was admired, she could not be loved. She had said so herself, that between love and fear, it was fear that always won because to her, fear is the "only thing that works." What a sad, pathetic, lonely lie that poor Zenia believed to be true. She was disillusioned by this. Her character was poisoned by it.

In answer to the author’s questions, “Was she in any way like us?…Are we in any way like her?”

Yes. And no. And like history, and like the exact words of Tony in the book, “History is a construct…any point of entry is possible and all choices are arbitrary.”

This is like our personalities and the histories in which they were born. And bred. And burned.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood is a 600-page emotional investment. If you have the time, the will power, and the guts to read it, please do. But don't say, you weren't forewarned.

( )
  ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez | Jun 6, 2017 |
A view of femme fatality from the point of view of the women whose lives she overturns. A scathing condemnation of homewrecking that manages not to be shrill or wholly accusatory. All of the women in the story all whole beings, flaws and strengths and all. Bernadette Dunne makes what could be a very difficult listen (there is a character who frequently thinks to herself in inverted words and phrases) seem quite natural and melifluous. ( )
  Soroka25 | Mar 9, 2017 |
The beautiful, enigmatic, villainous Zenia has ruined three women's lives. They meet at her funeral, and then run into her at a coffee shop. From there, we get their stories of how Zenia has affected them, which leads to the resolution in the final third of the book.

I enjoyed this book. There were a few parts where I thought that one of the characters became a bit cartoonish, and there were parts where I wanted Zenia to have a few more redeemable qualities to add depth to the novel. Overall, thought I thought that it was well done, and I enjoyed reading it. ( )
  fuzzy_patters | Sep 25, 2016 |
I read this when I was in Canada last year - and it was actually this very cover that was on my edition.

The Robber Bride has one of my favourite characters ever. Zenia. The woman comes back from the dead and leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. She's one of the best villains I've ever read. She's cold, ruthless and beautiful: a suburban predator.

I don't like her, I love her. I want to be her. (But she's so terrible.) I need to know how she thinks. (But it's dark and mysterious.)

I didn't always like the story - but some of the lines give me chills. Atwood's writing is sharp, clean, and remarkably feminist. She can put into words thoughts or feelings that I've been struggling with for a long time.

All of the characters are very well-constructed, and Atwood can weave a tale like no one else.

The only thing that would really improve this book is if it were longer. c: ( )
  lydia1879 | Aug 31, 2016 |
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Margaret Atwood has always possessed a tribal bent: in both her fiction and her nonfiction she has described and transcribed the ceremonies and experience of being a woman, or a Canadian, or a writer -- or all three. And as with so many practitioners of identity politics, literary or otherwise, while one side of her banner defiantly exclaims "We Are!" the other side, equally defiant, admonishes "Don't Lump Us." In "The Robber Bride," Ms. Atwood has gathered (not lumped) four very different women characters.

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Atwoodprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lameris, MarianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarlofsky, MalcolmCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A rattlesnake that doesn't bite teaches you nothing.
—Jessamyn West
Only what is entirely lost demands to be endlessly named: there is a mania to call the lost thing until it returns.
—Gunter Grass
Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
—Oscar Wilde
For Graeme and Jess,
and for Ruth, Phoebe, Rosie, and Anna.

And Absent Friends.
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The story of Zenia ought to begin when Zenia began.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385491034, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:30 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Roz, Charis, and Tony are all hurt and damaged by Zenia during their thirty-year relationship and after Zenia's death she still haunts them.

» see all 11 descriptions

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