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The Robber Bride

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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.

528 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1993

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About the author

Margaret Atwood

518 books77.2k followers
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Associations: Margaret Atwood was President of the Writers' Union of Canada from May 1981 to May 1982, and was President of International P.E.N., Canadian Centre (English Speaking) from 1984-1986. She and Graeme Gibson are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Society within BirdLife International. Ms. Atwood is also a current Vice-President of PEN International.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,527 reviews
Profile Image for Lisa.
974 reviews3,328 followers
April 10, 2019
"Every ending is arbitrary, because the end is where you write The end. A period, a dot of punctuation, a point of stasis. A pinprick in the paper: you could put your eye to it and see through, to the other side, to the beginning of something else. Or, as Tony says to her students, Time is not a solid, like wood, but a fluid, like water or the wind. It doesn't come neatly cut into even-sized length, into decades and centuries. Nevertheless, for our purposes we have to pretend it does. The end of any history is a lie in which we all agree to conspire."

And I have to admit that closing this novel, I thought that was the end of it. I liked it, in the way a mouse likes the beauty of a snake while knowing it doesn't have the weapons to fight it properly and will be devoured at a whim. But I thought I would not return to it ever again after escaping this study in everyday evil. And yet - I return in thoughts. More often than to other Atwood novels, actually, even though I would claim to like them more. This is not the Atwood I recommend to others. That would be Cat's Eye, The Handmaid's Tale, The Penelopiad or MaddAddam.

But Zenia never left my mind. That woman-snake, that evil demon, that narcissistic destructor of happiness and calm. She walked away, lost interest in me for bigger prey, but I remained paralysed in front of her image.

What is it that makes genuinely good and caring people fall for evil characters, bow to their charisma, do their bidding despite themselves? There is no proper answer, no satisfying END to that eternal human conundrum, and that is Atwood's message, her reflection on Steinbeck's Kate in East of Eden or on Zola's La Bête humaine. And yet, Zenia is worse in many ways because she is so common. She is scary because she is omnipresent. And because she is so good at what she is doing.

She picks the people that are asking to be hurt.

In the beginning, there was prey ... and the creator saw that they needed a predator. So she made one. And she saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the first chapter. And as long as storytelling is eternal, there will be no end:

"The end of any history is a lie in which we all agree to conspire."

Profile Image for Lavande.
37 reviews8 followers
October 2, 2007
I like a number of Margaret Atwood's works but not this one. It was like a Lifetime movie without the benefit of Tori Spelling and a fun, melodramatic plotline. Oh, the plotline was melodramatic all right but it was far from fun or even insightful. Three friends (all of them stereotypes of the post-feminist era) have dramatic encounters with an almost mythic creature/woman named Zenia who embodies all of the "negative" qualities in a woman, namely ruthlessness, lust and wandering passion. This three woman try to combat Zenia's efforts to interrupt their lives but most of their focus is on the men that they have loved and lost to her, men, in my opinion, they were better off without. It's not so much the existence of Zenia or the other protagonists that I find unbelievable but that three women would all behave in such a simpering way towards men who, apparently, don't need much more than mystery and a nice rack to destroy a stable relationshp to go jetting off with some woman they hardly know. I'm not sure which is more insulting: her depiction of women as simpletons or as men as witless fools.
Profile Image for Edan.
Author 8 books33k followers
December 4, 2013
My sister Lauren once said something both wise and ridiculous, and I think Atwood's beautiful, readable, and funny novel echoes the sentiment: "Women are crazy. Men are stupid." In The Robber Bride we get a peek into the lives of three women: petite academic Tony, new age, delicate Charis, and gregarious, fashionable Roz; the histories of their marriages, their childhoods, and their current day-to-day experiences in 1990s Toronto, are fascinating. All three of them have suffered at the hands of Zenia, the man-eater, who is not so much a woman as third-gendered--she is without a verifiable past, she is almost mythic in her actions and in her ability to disappear and renew herself, and she does not suffer as the other women, or men, in the novel do. She uses her body to get what she wants, in a way that the others cannot, but she uses something else, too, which remains a mystery to the characters. She has large breasts but they aren't real.

At first I worried this novel was a little too cartoonish in its depiction of Tony, Roz, and Charis, but as the story went on, all three women gained depth. I loved falling into their individual stories. And the writing! Atwood is just too good.

Reading this, I did think the relationships between men and women, as Atwood depicts them, feel a bit dated--there's a generational gap. This book is a historical text in that way, or at least it seemed like it to me. These women were born in the 1940s, and are in their fifties when the book begins. None of them can communicate with their partners, and all three of them have a maternal, "I need to take care of poor little him" attitude about their men. It feels authentic, but I think it's either specific to this milieu, or that a lot has changed. Even at the end of the book, one of the women (Tony?) sees Roz's teenage daughters as more confident, more honest, than she and her friends ever were. The women in this book don't have any male friends, and they don't seem to take their partners seriously, although they do exalt them in a strange way, and fear their leaving. There's a real, uncrossable chasm between men and women in this book, which feels foreign to me.

Anyway, I'm rambling now. Here are some of my favorite sentences:

Here's Roz:

"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 pump 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 was like speeding in a convertible, tailgating, weaving in and out without signaling, stereo on full blast and screw the neighbors, throwing your leftovers out the window, the ribbons, the wrapping paper, the half-eaten filo pastries and the champagne truffles, things you'd used up just by looking at them."


Then, here's Charis's part, where we learn about her getting molested as a kid:

""Scamper upstairs," he tells her. He's trying for his fake voice, his uncle voice, but he hasn't got it back; his voice is desolate."

Wow. "Desolate" is such a perfect word there.

And this is Tony:

"Meanwhile, the Zenias of this world are abroad in the land, plying their trade, cleaning out male pockets, catering to male fantasies. Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? ...Even pretending you aren't catering to a male fantasy is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair, unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman."

I love that line: "You are a woman with a man inside a woman watching a woman."

Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
July 1, 2020
145. The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood

The Robber Bride is a Margaret Atwood novel first published in 1993.

The novel begins with three women: (Roz, Charis, and Tony), who meet once a month, in a restaurant, to share a meal.

During one outing, the three friends see Zenia. The novel alternates between the present and flashbacks featuring the points of view of Tony, Charis, and Roz, respectively.

Zenia has given each woman a different version of her biography, tailor-made to insinuate herself into their lives. No one version of Zenia is the truth, and the reader knows no more than the characters.

عروس فریبکار - مارگارت اتوود (ققنوس) ادبیات کانادا؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هفدهم ماه ژوئن سال 2012 میلادی

عنوان: عروس فریبکار؛ نویسنده: مارگارت اتوود؛ مترجم شهین آسایش؛ تهران، ققنوس، 1380؛ در 702ص؛ شابک 9643113027؛ چاپ دوم 1382؛ چاپ سوم 1385؛ چهارم 1388؛ شابک 9789643113025؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان کانادایی - سده 20م

در «عروس فریبکار»، اثر «مارگارت اتوود»، «زینیا»، زنی بسیار باهوش و جذاب است؛ زنی ست که همیشه وارد زندگی زوجهای دیگر میشود، مردها را مجذوب خویش میکند، زندگی زنها را از هم میپاشاند، و سپس مردها را نیز، همچون تفاله ای دور میاندازد؛ «زینیا» هماره دروغ میگوید، کسی درباره ی او چیزی نمیداند؛ در کتاب هیچ فصلی اشاره مستقیمی به خود «زینیا» ندارد، بلکه با بررسی زندگی قربانیان او، و اینکه چه چیزی باعث میشد، شوهرانشان آنها را ترک کنند، و به سوی زن دیگری بروند، خوانشگر را با «زینیا» آشنا میسازد

نقل نمونه متن: «زینیاهای این دنیا سوارکارند، و جیب مردان را خالی میکنند، و در خدمت هوسهای آنها هستند؛ امیال آنها را هوسهای مردانه، هدایت میکنند؛ اگر شما را بالا ببرند، یا وادارتان کنند، تا زانو بزنید، همه به خاطر هوسهای مردانه است؛ ...؛ حتی تظاهر کردن به اینکه، در خدمت امیال مردانه نیستید، نوعی هوس مردانه است»؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 11/04/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,521 followers
March 25, 2019
This is the thirteenth Margaret Atwood novel I’ve read, and it’s easily one of her most enjoyable. Not her best, mind you, but lots of fun, and highly, highly readable. Plus: a lot of the book takes place a block away from where I currently live and work in Toronto.

Three middle-aged former college friends – history prof Tony, businesswoman Roz, and yoga instructor Charis – have all been used and manipulated by a toxic woman named Zenia. Five years after attending Zenia’s memorial service – she had supposedly died in a terrorist incident in Lebanon – the women are having their weekly lunch at a Queen West restaurant/bar when, mouths open, they each see their former frenemy return from the dead.

In the opening section, Atwood lets us experience the fateful day from each of the friends’ perspectives, the lunch and sighting taking on a Rashomon-like quality. Over the next three sections, the bulk of the 600-page book, we get deeper into Tony, Charis and Roz’s lives, to see how they grew up, how they first met Zenia and what dastardly thing she eventually did to them, mostly involving stealing men and money. The final sections show us what happens after they discover their nemesis has returned.

The novel’s structure is superb, as is the character-building. Atwood plunges us deeply into all three women’s lives, letting us see each of their weaknesses, which Zenia, of course, will later exploit. While the title refers to one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, the book itself isn’t a straight reworking of it; instead it inverts the genders and plays with other elements we know from folk stories (for instance, so many of the women seem to be orphaned).

Throughout it all, Atwood touches on many themes about late 20th-century womanhood: struggling to break through that glass ceiling, dealing with abuse, forging rich friendships, balancing work and motherhood. The novel is also: a look at the power of storytelling itself (Zenia’s own tales of woe are gripping, if fake); a mystery about what the new Zenia is ultimately up to; and in some way it’s a look at the personification of evil itself.

What I loved about the book is that each of the women is resourceful in her own way, even the seemingly flaky, crystal-loving, aura-detecting Charis. The fact that Tony’s academic specialty is war gives her insights into how battles, including human ones, play out. And Roz’s business smarts, and money, also give her an upper hand – up to a point.

The ending feels rushed, and the men aren’t as rounded as the women, but these are quibbles. The Robber Bride is Atwood at her most entertaining. C’mon, Stockholm. Award her the damn Nobel Prize already.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,643 followers
October 12, 2016
4.5/5 stars.
This novel is amongst my favourites by Margaret Atwood so far because it deals with something that is relevant to everyone. It deals with Zenia, a woman who has poisoned several lives and basically destroyed Tony, Charis and Roz, the three main characters. We all have this kind of person in our lives; however, the thing is that Zenia is extreme, and it's very interesting to go back in time and learn about what she has done to these three women.
When we meet Tony, Charis and Roz, Zenia has just died which is a huge relief to everyone. Nevertheless, Zenia fatally returns from the dead and start haunting these women all over again, and this is where we get to hear about their backgrounds.
This might sound kind of humorous, but actually "The Robber Bride" is written in a very sinister and mysterious tone of voice which only adds to its brilliancy. I, for one, was a fan, and this book has gotten me interested in reading much more by Margaret Atwood.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,283 reviews21.5k followers
June 12, 2008
Everybody in this novel has a motive for killing Zenia – and that is the point, or at least, one of the points. Zenia is a dark, malevolent force – one of those people we desire in the dark, middle of the forest nightmare spaces in the black pits of our souls. She is the one who knows our secret desires and who uses them against us to bring about our own undoing. At least, we would like to believe it is our undoing she seeks and that she is the agent that brings it about. But that is the thing about malevolent forces – they are agents of change, and sometimes what seem like evil changes bring about good outcomes.

I don’t want to ruin this book for you if you are thinking of reading it. But I think I can get away with saying Zenia works her magic by being a mirror – Atwood even says this at some point towards the end, but I was thinking it most of the way through the book. And mirrors are interesting things, troubling things, dangerous things.

There are a number of themes that struck me during this book which I’m going to think about more now with you. Atwood has always been interesting to me, ever since I read The Blind Assassin, although, I liked this one better than that book. I think mainly because I worked out far too early in that one ‘the secret’ and that spoilt it for me. Much like Psycho was ruined for me by my working out the problem with the mother well before the end.

One of the things I really liked about this book was Atwood’s way of casually mentioning, before launching off on a story, something key that happens at the end of the tale – I felt like I was doing one of those mazes in a kids’ colouring book – I know where to start and where I’ll end, but how will we get from one to the other? The other thing about knowing the end of a story before the details are filled in – the main point of it, I think – is that we get lashings of dramatic irony. If you know before the story starts that this character’s husband is going to run off with Zenia, well, when she is saying to them both, “No, you two stay here and enjoy yourselves while I go off and bury my head in the sand” you know what a fool she is being taken for. Irony gets piled on irony. This is an interesting pleasure. There was a time when all stories that were told (Macbeth, Oedipus, Lear) were already known by the audience before the play began. This meant that the author could play with dramatic irony – with the audience being brought under the wing of the author as a co-conspirator. And Atwood does exactly this with her readers in this book – and it is a fascinating device.

I really like stories that are based on fairytales – though, with smart writers I sometimes struggle with the allusion back to the tale itself, which I assume must be there. The Grimm fairytale that is implied in the title of this one comes in two versions. The first thing we notice is that the sex has been changed. The Robber Bridegroom is someone the bride has been promised to who lives in the middle of the dark woods. He asks his bride-to-be to come to him at his house, but she resists and is terrified of him. He leaves a trail for her to find his house, either in ashes or ribbons. When she does go to him his house is empty except for an old woman who hides and protects the bride. Soon she learns that her husband-to-be is part of a group of thieves who are rather fond of eating women – in the first version of the story a beautiful young woman is devoured, in the other version the princess’s own grandmother. In both versions of the story the bride is hidden behind a barrel when the dead woman who is being prepared to be boiled and eaten has a finger cut off with an axe so that the robbers can steal a ring that is stuck tight on her finger. This finger flies across the room and lands in the lap of the bride behind the barrel. Luckily the robbers give up looking for the finger/ring before they discover the young woman. After their cannibal feast they sleep the sleep of the innocent, so deeply asleep that the young woman can make her escape. In both versions of the story the bridegroom finally comes to marry his bride, but before the service the bride tells him about her ‘dream’. This dream is the story of her visit to his house in the middle of the dark woods and as she tellsthis story he becomes increasingly pale. Once the story is finished he tries to escape, but is soon captured, as are the rest of his troupe of villains, and they are all killed by the appropriate authorities for their wicked deeds.

Now, part of me would have thought that telling you that story would in some way ruin – at least in part – the story of The Robber Bride. What surprises me is that there seems to be so few parallels between the fairytale and the tale Atwood composes here.

I also wondered what would have happened, how would I have responded to this story, if it had been written by a man? It would have been quite a different story, I think, if Mark Atwood had written it rather than his ‘sister’ Margaret. I would have taken the male writer to have been a sexist old fart. The main proof of this sexism would have been the three main women characters and the ultimate ‘femme fatale’ in Zenia. The three women at the heart of this story are each instances of what it is to be a woman in the 1980s. One is a bit of a tom boy – interested in wars and recreating battles, she also (like Zenia) eats men, if only representations of men as dried beans and such from her mock battle fields. She is logical and analytical – she even has a man’s name, Tony. Then there is the dippy one – the one who sees auras and I sure today would drink wheat grass. The third is the feminist business woman - although this reads like the final twist of the knife (and I think it is very interesting that Zenia attacks both this one’s failing marriage and her failing feminist magazine at much the same time) also interesting is the fact that the person this one turns to when she needs to know how to sort things out is a homosexual. There are lots of interesting things going on in this book about sexuality, gender, and what it is to be a woman – well, and a man, I guess, but much less so. Some of it, as I’ve said, would have meant something quite different if it had been said by a man.

The men in this book are all pathetic. So, a fairly accurate portrayal. It is interesting, the woman all know instinctively that if Zenia turns her attention to their partners then there is no question they will be swept away by her – false tits and all. They are powerless to 'protect' their men from her powers.

I have relatives who live in Canada – it is something I’ve always known, since I was a child, but have only recently ever met any of these mythic creatures. All the same, Canada has always seemed to me to have been another possible place that my family could have ended up in, a place where another possible me may have grown up. And, let’s face it, the Irish are just perverse enough, when given a choice between sunny Australia and freezing Canada, to choose Canada. What really surprises me – given Canada is also ‘part of the Commonwealth’ is the use of American rather than British constructions. for instance, no Australian or British person would ever say, “Well, she can kiss my fanny”. That is a gesture which is much more intimate here than it is in North America – hint, right general area, but boys don’t have fannies. There are other instances of what I would take to be US English rather than British English that surprised me during this – and I just would have thought British English might have been more likely in Canada than proved to be the case.

There are awful parts of this story – bits that are horrible and painful – just as there are in all fairytales. But I liked how this one ended and was relieved, as the meaning of Zenia, even to the characters, was not allowed to remain quite as simple as seemed might be the case at early parts in the story.

Part of us longs for someone like Zenia – oh, we deny it, of course, but if there are to be dark forces in our universe, well, surely these forces would spend their time trying to work out how to make our lives a misery. We are self-centred enough to believe that is true. But what if the devil actually couldn’t care less about us? Or worse, what if the havoc the devil caused in our lives was actually for our own good – so we could learn an important lesson?

Atwood is an interesting writer, always in control – always playing, and some of her metaphors are worthy of poetry rather than prose. Zenia is a liar, but Atwood is the consummate liar here – for isn’t that what a fiction writer is? – And isn’t every work of art, every work of fiction, a testament to the power of its creator to spin her web of lies?

Disturbing, intelligent, confronting and multilayered – what more could you ask for in a novel?
Profile Image for James.
423 reviews
January 17, 2018
Charis, Roz and Tony: Three very different women, leading three very different lives – what binds them together is their shared history attending the same college and their shared experiences of a fourth – the dangerous, enigmatic and poisonous Zenia and the part(s) she plays in all their lives.

In the hands of a less accomplished author than Margaret Atwood – such a foundation as this for a novel would undoubtedly have resulted in something clichéd, pedestrian though sensationalist and ultimately two-dimensional to say the least. Not so with Atwood…

This is a story of the victors, the vanquished, of wars waged, battles won and lost – between nations and amongst individuals. This is history, both on a grand scale, the world stage and more pertinently here – on the interpersonal, the individual level, the macro as well as the micro view.

This is a history of manipulation, humiliation, subjugation, ruination and desolation – this about the poisoning and the destruction of lives. It’s about winning and losing, life and death(s) – who is the user and who is the used?

‘The Robber Bride’ is Atwood’s skillful retelling and re-imagining of Grimm’s ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ and whilst perhaps not up there with her best (Handmaids Tale, Blind Assassin, Alias Grace et al) – it’s an excellent novel by anybody’s standards. By turns, funny, infuriating, frustrating and thrilling – in some ways it’s a ‘whodunnit’ x 3 – but who-dun-what and how with who? Three stories of three women – with a fourth more mysterious one, never quite in focus always mysterious and as you would expect a well-constructed conclusion to the story(s) to all that has been told throughout.
Profile Image for Anna.
565 reviews101 followers
April 17, 2018
αληθινό page turner από μια αγαπημένη συγγραφέα. 4 αστεράκια γιατί απλά το θέμα δεν ήταν τόσο δυνατό όσο άλλα βιβλία της

Τρεις γυναίκες ...χαροκαμμένες και μια κλέφτρα κίσσα που τους πήρε τους άνδρες. Ψυχογράφημα με τους χαρακτήρες να είναι ιδιαίτερα έντονοι (ίσως λίγο μονοδιάστατοι, αλλά, σοβαρά τώρα, δεν έχετε γνωρίσει μονοδιάστατους ανθρώπους;). Οι σχέσεις των δυο φύλων, η κοινωνική θέση τους, η πάλη των θέλω, το αέναο κυνήγι της ευτυχίας (Μέγα ερώτημα: ποιος από όλους τους χαρακτήρες ήταν τελικά ο πιο ευτυχισμένος;)

Το βιβλίο γράφτηκε το 1990 και ίσως πλέον να μην είναι τόσο επίκαιρο, δεδομένου ότι στα περισσότερα θέματα οι γυναίκες έχουν ξεπεράσει τις πεποιθήσεις των παλαιότερων ετών (χμ... σίγουρα;), αλλά σε κάθε περίπτωση η γραφή της Ατγουντ έχει κάτι μαγικό...

Το βιβλίο το διάλεξα μέσα σε 2 λεπτά (γιατί τόσο είχα διαθέσιμο μέχρι να κλείσει η βιβλιοθήκη) και το μόνο μου κριτήριο ήταν η συγγραφέας. Θα το πρότεινα για λόγους πληρότητας για όσους αγαπάνε το έργο της και όχι κάποιος να αρχίσει με αυτό.
Profile Image for Andrea.
84 reviews79 followers
March 20, 2008
Interesting enough for me to finish in less than 24 hours, but lacking in anything that would provoke lasting thought or examination.

I found this book to be a great disappointment. It's basically all about how three incredibly amazing women, so smart and strong and capable within themselves, are brought down and nearly destroyed by a fourth woman, through her attack on their common weak spot: the men in their lives. The exotically, impossibly beautiful Zenia systematically targets each woman, imposes upon her generosity for a time, then vamooses with her man and a great deal of money. Why? Her motive seems to be nothing more than greed and the fact that she can. Her beauty and craftiness are reason enough? I don't know.

But really, why is the book populated solely with weak men in need of a good spot of mothering? Why does Tony let Zenia lead her husband around by the dick and then, when Zenia's had done with him, allow him back into her home, never to broach the subject again? Why is the only character with a strong backbone and chipless shoulders an elderly farmer's widow who endures a solitary existence, shunned by the neighbors who fear she's a witch and by her toxic daughters who are ashamed of her?

I always like the idea of Margaret Atwood more than the reality and this book may be the final nail in my decision to never read another of her books. Why does feminist writing have to be about women being destroyed by other women and men being too brainless, incompetent, and unaware to contribute anything worthwhile? This book would have me be believe all women are untrustworthy—especially those posing as my friends—and that the only way to deal with men is to condescend to them, mother them, hide from them the true goings-on in my mind and the world.

The state of loneliness in which the main characters exist is unsettling, but I don't find it very believable. None of the members of the I Hate Zenia Club are respectful of their friends. They tune out or dismiss their supposed friends' opinions, friendly advice is more like an insult disguised as a compliment, and they meet up once a month for a lunch so they can sit around listening to themselves talk and hating on the woman they let walk all over them. None of them seem to have any other meaningful interactions with other humans: family members are looked at as curiosities or pets and co-workers or colleagues are avoided and disdained, treated like a trained monkey, or are just as self-absorbed and damaged as they and, therefore, equally incapable of real conversation.

Are we all really that hollow inside?
Profile Image for Rachel.
352 reviews157 followers
July 6, 2022
Goodness gracious. I’m glad I did a reread. Not the deepest of Atwood novels, but one of the most entertaining.

Zenia is such a fun villain, you really just want to murder her for the entire novel. Sometimes you just want to feel passionate yet uncomplicated feelings about a character, you know? Add in great (albeit dark) backstories for all three protagonists and everything just works.

*special shout-out to MA for making all the significant others in this book such trash, it’s kind of hilarious. They’re either actively terrible or spineless and bland and those are really the only options. Plus the fidelity issues. Lol
Profile Image for capture stories.
110 reviews64 followers
February 14, 2021
Ludicrous, awkwardly mirroring the thoughts and emotions of men and women. Smart but ugly tale. Funny at some point, honest at the edge, again, Atwood has whipped up an extraordinary retelling of Grimm's 'The Robber Bridegroom' to 'The Robber Bride' of a whole different version and new perspective reimagined!

The novel starts with three friends, Antonia (Tony), Karen (Charis), and Roz. All three were middle-aged women who formed lasting friendships from college years. Between them, a unique camaraderie birth from sticking out for each other through thick and thin, and overcoming an obsession towards a villainous woman named Zenia who supposedly died, but resurrected and re-enters their life, stealing the love of their life--their men.

So, who is this witch, Zenia? Her character befalls on being an irresistibly beautiful but ruthless and greedy character who lied her way into getting the things she wants and, in the end, disposes of it when she's bored or comes to no use anymore. It's interesting enough that she does it again and again, without getting caught? Understandably, the three friends must have been brutish with the weariness of how lives had hit them and looked as little where they are going, should they have walked into an ambush like a blind man! Although they are all capable women who can stand on their own feet and make their living.

However, one thing in common I noticed between the four women is the lack of happiness, a missing piece of the puzzle since childhood. Each woman has terrible childhood experiences, abused, neglected, and abandoned. Here comes along Zenia, once a friend turned fiend scarring their adult lives. In this case, humans may turn out incredibly selfless - Tony, Charis, and Roz or radically selfish - Zenia, which is how the plot has navigated down the road.

Having a closeup view of the reactions, defense, confrontations, and wits unfold when threatened. The vivid portrayal of these women see or say about each other is the novel's highlights. The counterpart about the men in this story told in a flaky manner that they are beings can be easily overpowered; Zenia fobs off the power of joy and pain that only death would cease its grip.

The novel finds its subject of murder contemplated, the fragility of men, and women's ubiquity. Love matters of the ungraspable and at-risk heart pep-talks can feed one's intellect and invite broader kinds of reckoning. Conclusively, it's been an incredible freak of reading adventure that landed on a good note. I think.
Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
448 reviews911 followers
June 11, 2015
Atwood at her finest - and in some ways, meanest (I mean that in a good way). I ended up loving it, although found it started slowly, lacking her usual sly and almost remote perspective, sharp insights, biting black humour. It was almost too sincere and - gasp! - clichéd.

Then, by about p 100, it kicked in. Cunning use of language and symbolism (the eggs!) - and most of all, a study in a particularly disturbing kind of psychopathology to which so many of us have been prey. Slices to the bone and hits close to home, for me.

I have known too many Zenias in my life, women and men. I like to think I've learned to spot and avoid them, but this book reminds me of how they do what they do: the predatory and unscrupulous behaviour of the pathological liar.

I love that Atwood focuses her laser-beam eye here on the three 'victims'. She forces you right into their heads, you get to see each one’s inner workings at a microscopic level, the way those CSI shows take you right into the orifices and organs to show you the source of the disease up close, magnified 1,000x. You see the arterial placque of their psyches, each vein of vulnerability.

Not that the ‘victims’ here are diseased – but more like their particular psychologies, pasts, experiences have left them exposed and lacking any immunity to the disease that Zenia/the liar carries.

That core vulnerability – the commonality between Tony, Roz and Charis – is their essential ‘goodness’: their natural, untainted proclivity to trust. Even as we watch them fall repeatedly into Zenia’s clutches because of it, motivated not just by their own willingness to trust but also by the equally natural and forgivable flaws and egocentricities and points of pride or pain or shame or lack of self-awareness that Zenia exploits, we root for them and we recognize ourselves in them.

I appreciated so much that Atwood chose to Too often, the opposite happens - it's the most regrettable collateral damage that the pathological liar causes. I appreciated the maturity, authenticity and well-roundedness of their perceptions and understanding of each other. This level of hyper-psycho-realism is always high in Atwood; here, she's at her peak power. And she walked a bit of a tightrope, too: Zenia, in another author's hands, could have been seen as a particularly mean-spirited sexist attack; Tony, Roz and Charis as caricatures of specific types of feminity. Atwood deliberately manipulates these nuances and layers of meaning, and our interpretation of them, as part of the story. Zenia-like, really; story-tellers are weaving lies, too, right? Reading a story is sometimes like looking in a mirror - we see ourselves reflected there; another deliberate choice of symbolism that Atwood uses.

A lot of novels make me cry. Some make me clench my teeth in anger. Still fewer leave me on the edge of my seat as I wonder how the plot will resolve. Almost none make me feel all of this, and so profoundly as this one does.

It’s extraordinary.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
December 28, 2009
Well a hard headed woman,
a soft hearted man
been the cause of trouble
ever since the world began.
Oh yeah, ever since the world began
He listens to Elvis with half an ear as he finishes the last few pages. He'd felt worried when his wife told him he should read it. The Fay Weldon, last year... that had left him feeling disquieted. But this one was different. He wonders if Margaret is a lady or a woman or a babe. He guesses he'd better call her a woman. Privately, though, he's decided she's a babe.

What was that thing Jack Nicholson once said? Women know there's only twelve kinds of men in the world, and they get a bit tired of it. I know that because I'm the kind they tell things to. He'd found that pretty funny. He knows what women think of men. Most of Margaret's sly criticisms are familiar, and sometimes they sting a little. He makes promises, and doesn't keep them. He won't admit that he lets his wife take care of the dirty jobs. He wants sex when he shouldn't, and then he doesn't want it when he should. But there's a goodnatured edge to her teasing. He can recognize the real danger signals; this is no more than threat level orange.
I heard about a king
who was doin' swell
till he started playing
with that evil Jezebel
The one Margaret really hates is Jezebel, not the men. Though at the same time she wishes she could be her, just for five minutes. That's familiar too. He knew immediately who Zenia reminds him of, and he also knew she reminded his wife of the same person. And what was the ending about?

He suddenly notices that she's looking at him.

"Did you like it, hon?"

He collects his thoughts.

"It, ah, it spoke to me."

He was trying for ironic, but to his surprise he finds that he means it. She smiles, and turns up the music.

"I always thought this was a great track. Let's dance."

She pulls him out of the chair, and he knows that, just now, everything is alright.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,634 reviews5,007 followers
July 6, 2011
atwood's splendid deconstruction and then reconstruction of the ties that can exist between women is one of her more pleasurable novels. it is full of fascinating references to fairy tales; discovering the parallels to rapunzel, sleeping beauty, and cinderella (to name just three) is an ongoing delight and the title character herself is so mysteriously poisonous yet malleable in her many faces that she becomes almost mythic. just as enjoyable is the deftness and richness of the characterization. atwood knows how to write characters who live and breathe, who think thoughts that are so true to life yet who still manage to surprise the reader with the decisions they make. and it should go without saying that the author's mastery of irony, of the poetic metaphor, of language itself, is present in spades.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,287 reviews730 followers
December 17, 2015
It's books like these that makes my rarely flouted 'always finish' rule earn its keep, for it often takes going through the entirety of any work for the meshing gears of personal reception to reveal themselves to my own perception. Granted, it didn't do a very good job of serving as inspiration for one of my more creative frenzies, but it was a decent whetting stone for my analytic ability without pissing me off too much, so reading it in tandem with The Second Sex was not such a horrible mistake after all. Reading the works simultaneously definitely negatively affected my evaluation of this one, but the work was mildly entertaining when I wasn't hell bent on deconstructing it to its most basic of constituents, which counts for something.

I will admit, I went into this looking for the Atwood of The Handmaid's Tale, but never fear, I found better reasons for my tepid reaction than thwarted expectations. One of these is a simple mechanic of any sort of fiction, in that most of if not all of its success with an audience lies in its talents for deception, suspension of disbelief if you will for folks keen on key terminology. In Handmaid's Tale, I was astounded by the powerful usage of metaphor in all its macabre forms, enough to feel threatened by these clusters of ink lying limply spread over dead white plains. Thus I was emotionally invested enough with this story to not care about whatever contrivances of plot, character, and other components of fiction the author chose to utilize in crafting their work.

This book did not pull that off. While I'll admit to finding bits and pieces of it interesting and/or amusing, the emotional pull was not enough to distract me from seeing it as a collection of stereotypes that happened to resonate with my own personal characteristics. Seeing as how this is how most fiction is generated and how I have not yet sworn off of stories completely despite my rapid intake, I wondered what else was off.

This is where The Second Sex comes in and all of its wonderful analysis of woman and all of her facets, including a large section on the figure in fiction and the popular consigning of her to the category of 'mystery'. It turns out that this is a major pet peeve of mine, and without my knowing at the time was a theme that bugged me during my reading of Rebecca. What both that book and this have in common is the subsuming of the entire story in the viewpoint(s) of one or many female characters, one which looks out on a world from a perspective well-adjusted to the expectations of men and woman, and finds within its gaze a female who chooses to break these ideological standards and use them as tools for her own gain. Both of these females provide the only sense of plot advancement, as well as the only truly uniqueness of character, a source of unknown and mysterious complexity in the world of The Robber Bride where the women coddle in silent suffering their hapless men and innocently wondrous children.

Admittedly, there are only three women to view the world from, but all three seemed extremely predictable in their thought patterns, as if nature did nothing but grant selves well-adjusted to the current state of society's expectations of the female role and left nurturing to fill in the quirks that would differentiate them from everyone else. All this building up of all too easily explained characters, while the most interesting is left to wallow as an unfathomable conundrum. A mark of laziness, in my mind. Oh, and the only decent males who don't fall into the 'hell hath no fury like a man offended' category are gay. Go figure.

In conclusion, I may have issues with well-adjusted characters in general, and should just come to grips with the fact that not everyone is going to care about the bigger picture in context with their own lives, and as a result are perfectly happy going along with a preconceived toolbox that is never truly pushed into civil war. That doesn't diminish the fact that nothing distracted me from focusing so much on the more unsatisfying aspects of the story. Not the imagery, not the plot, no deep insight into the human condition, no novel ways of conveying information that sometimes result in a faint feeling of omniscience and more often in a migraine, not even overwhelming bleakness that leaves me rocking in the corner in states that I really should be more careful about. Nadda. Just a few traces of entertainment and a bit more knowledge about Canada and various historical conflicts. And more experience with analyzing gender stereotypes, I suppose. That's always useful.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,254 reviews49 followers
December 2, 2018
Another very enjoyable longish novel from Atwood, perhaps a little too melodramatic at times to rank with her very best work.

The book has four main female characters, who met at college in Toronto in the 60s. Tony is a military historian and perhaps the most interesting. Charis is something of a new age hippie, and Roz runs a successful business. All of them are affected by and haunted by Zenia, a mysterious and charismatic femme fatale who has seduced all if their partners and exploited all of them in other ways. In the end Zenia becomes something of a caricature but the book is much more about the other three, all of whom carry the scars of childhood traumas.

The book has five main parts. In the first we are introduced to each of the three women in turn. They all attended Zenia's funeral five years earlier, but meet for a lunch, at which Zenia reappears, which is described from all three perspectives.

The next three sections dig deeper into the histories of each of the three, and their dealings with Zenia, and the fifth brings the denouement in which the focus switches more often.
Profile Image for C..
496 reviews182 followers
August 16, 2014
I'm in several minds about this book, because I am head-over-heels in love with Cat's Eye by same, and a lot of this reads like Cat's Eye shifted a couple of spaces to the left.

The reason I love Cat's Eye so unreasonably is, and it's time to stop pretending this isn't true, primarily because of some things that happened in my life sometime between (approx.) my sixth and seventh readings (though I use the term 'reading' loosely) of it, and so my love for it is all bound up rather painfully with all sorts of other things. It's compulsive and a little scary in its intensity and it's not something I have a say in, at all. I could say that I don't think there is any book that means so much to me, I could say that no book had such a profound effect on me, but neither of them are quite right.

Anyway. So it was much to my surprise that I wander in my vague way into The Robber Bride and it's like Cat's Eye keeps poking through the gaps. Mostly this is in the writing style, which is much more similar to that of Cat's Eye than I noticed in any of the other four of Atwood's books I've read. There are the simple, deadpan sentences, infused with a sort of melancholy that I've never seen anywhere else. The cute strings of rhetorical questions, placed like discussion questions for the conscientious reader. The use of an academic field as a metaphor (history rather than quantum mechanics - I think it works better). Twin imagery, though it's multiplied into quadruplets this time. Damaged women. Unreliable men. Villains with mildly unusual names. Difficult childhoods. I could go on.

And I was a bit surprised to find myself sighing in a here-we-go-again kind of way when I came across this. I thought I loved everything about Cat's Eye, but maybe I don't love the writing so completely, or I don't love everything about the writing so completely. Maybe I've been confusing familiarity with fondness again - ever done that? I do it with music all the time: when I've heard a song over and over again, especially when I've heard it while I was having fun, like, say, at parties, I am completely unable to tell if I genuinely like it or not. Difference is I don't care or know all that much about music.


It's all there! She even reused the thing about painting the apartment black to annoy the landlords, though in Cat's Eye it was only one room (the bathroom was red) while in The Robber Bride it's the entire flat. Which in a way works for the whole thing - I knew beforehand that The Robber Bride was in many ways the sequal, thematically speaking, to Cat's Eye, so maybe it shouldn't have come as such a surprise. But everything in this is like a slightly bigger version of the things in Cat's Eye.

It's too early in the book - not even halfway - for me to be saying this, but I do. It bothers me deeply. It's offensive, because Cat's Eye was perfect. It was written for me, and only for me. How dare she write another book so similar? It's kind of upsetting.


Oh man! Ok, I'm over my earlier malaise. I fucking love this book! I fell in love with it for good while Karen was discovering Charis (I don't care what that says about me as a person), and it is. so. amazing. I can't remember the last time I was so enthralled by a book.

There are so many things she does so well, and one of them is relating the experience of being a woman. In Cat's Eye, she did some brilliant work about what it's like to be a little girl. In this one, it's about older women and I think I'm a bit too young to appreciate most of it - the action really only starts when the characters are a few years older than I am now. But I'm just getting to the stage where I'm drifting apart from a lot of the women I was friends with at school; we don't have much in common any more, but if we were good enough friends, our shared experiences are enough to maintain the friendship. The only thing Tony, Charis and Roz have shared is a bit of a train wreck; but they survived it together, and that's enough! It's enough! "Only with them do I have no power." Fucking amazing.


Young Roz and Old Charis aren't one hundred percent convincing, but Tony I love. Tony is a character I can believe in. Tony is a person I'd really like to meet. Unfortunately she'd be so much shorter than me that I might have trouble hearing what she was saying (this has happened to me before), but probably if there are no other short people around it would be ok. West I also kind of like. He's still an idiot, but I can imagine falling for a West, though I'd never fall for a Billy or a Mitch.

I'm not convinced by this structure she uses. I think it's too rigid, and too predictable. Though kudos to her for not making Roz's childhood as unbearable as the other twos'.

Her male characters are so stupid, it's incredible. If anything she hates men, not women.

I didn't like Roz's childhood because it was written too much like Elaine's, but without all the loving work and detail that really made Elaine's work.

This is interesting to read as a social history, as well. These women are twenty or so years older than my parents, so while the lives they live are superficially similar, there are many things in them that are different. I've never read anyone who writes about the war experience like Atwood does, in both this and Cat's Eye. Similarly, I've seen in other people's reviews comments about the way she writes about the feminist movement and the experiences of women. I don't know enough about this period in history to say if I think her approach is anachronistic or anything, but it's darned interesting.

I'm used to the writing again (and I seem to remember now that it always took me a while to get into it with Cat's Eye too), but there are still a lot of little things coming up that she also used in Cat's Eye, and it still annoys me quite a lot. It feels like cheating, though I understand why she does it.

I love this book. I love Margaret Atwood. This is what reading should be about.


This book was like the best present ever! You know, the thing that you never suspected you wanted or needed because you didn't know it existed, but which is completely and utterly perfect! (Probably even more so than a Virginia Woolf t-shirt, though it's a close one.) And once you've got it, you have no idea how you ever survived without it.

It suddenly seems (though I haven't thought about this properly, so don't quote me or anything) that there isn't nearly enough literature out there about the day-to-day experience of being a woman. And this is probably all the fault of the patriarchy. Whatever, but this book! I've been reading too much for my own edification recently, I'd forgotten what it was like to enjoy reading so much. I know this book is full of flaws, and I can't say I liked it as much as Cat's Eye (duh), but I enjoyed it enough to give it five stars and I even seriously considered putting it on my 'ab-fav' shelf.



In the back of my book there's some writing in greylead pencil. It's my handwriting, and though I don't remember writing it, it seems like something I might do. This is what it says:

Is Zenia real or imaginary? Or both? Zenia traumatised the three women, but may also have done some good. Shadow figure/doppelganger: represents their numerous repressed selves

There's something in this, I think. Because (arguably with the exception of Tony, and they got back together again anyway) they were in pretty unhealthy relationships, which Zenia managed to break up - liberating them, in a way. Also, although what Zenia did to them was pretty bad, what happened in their childhoods was worse. Or so it seemed to me.

Besides, get this quote from Charis:

"Karen is coming back, Charis can't keep her away any more. She's torn away the rotting leather, she's come to the surface, she's walked through the bedroom wall, she's standing in the room right now. But she is no longer a nine-year-old girl. She has grown up, she has gone tall and thin and straggly, like a plant in a cellar, starved for light. And her hair isn't pale any more, but dark. The sockets of her eyes are dark too. dark bruises. She no longer looks like Karen. She looks like Zenia."

It's Elaine and Cordelia all over again!


More thoughts (still spoiler-y)

I think the key to understanding this book is to look at it as a sort of modern-day fairy tale. There are a few obvious elements of the supernatural, most notably Charis's vision (or rather the fact that it turns out to be correct), but also the tarot cards and Charis's grandmother's healing powers. It's easy to write off the last two as coincidence and the overactive imagination of a disturbed child, but the vision is too much to ignore. I originally thought it was kind of weird and clumsy, because the rest of the book is so realistic, but now I think maybe it's a clue - a clue that nothing should be taken literally.

The title is another, more obvious clue. As explained is made clear in the book, it's a reference to The Robber Bridegroom, one of Grimm's Fairy Tales (Trevor describes it in detail in his review). Apart from the obvious and less-obvious (I'll have to read the fairy tale itself and possibly this book again before I can understand it properly, I think) parallels between that story and this one, there are quite a few aspects of the book that I found perplexing at first, but which make sense if you think about it in terms of fairy tales.

Firstly, the structure: although I loved being absorbed into each character's life, I found the structure to be a bit too rigid. I didn't like the way each part was so similar, and the way there were so many parallels between the lives of each character and the way each of their stories was told. The part at the end where they each confront Zenia one by one seemed especially contrived. But it makes more sense if you think about it as a fairy tale: those stories rely on repetition. The knights each try to rescue the princess, and each one goes through almost exactly the same process, which is described with minor differences but otherwise in identical, repetitive, exhaustive detail each time. It's like that that Tony, Charis and Roz each track down Zenia and attempt to defeat her.

It amazed me also how close each of them came to being bewitched by her, in those last confrontations, despite how well they knew her by that time. This makes more sense if you see her as having some sort of magical powers which she uses to (attempt to) cast a spell over them. This also explains, for me, the ridiculousness of the male characters, because if you take away the ease with which Zenia manages to ensnare them and the hold she has over them even after she dumps them, they're believable (though still pretty despicable). So I guess she bewitched them too.

Which brings me to Zenia. It doesn't make sense to see her as 'imaginary', as I wrote above, because it's obvious that people other than Roz, Charis, Tony and their s.o.'s see her and interact with her. So if she's imaginary, that implies they must be under some form of mass delusion, which doesn't make sense. It makes more sense to see her as some sort of magical being, or as Jamie said, a force - or, as Moira said, something the three women managed to conjure up. Or as a doppelganger containing parts of their repressed souls. Any of those interpretations work. In fact, what I loved most about Zenia's character is her ambiguity - the fact that we never understand anything about her, where she really comes from, who she really is, why she does what she does. She's completely unbelievable, which makes sense if she's actually not supposed to be a real person.

Even the ending makes more sense. I didn't like it at first - it seemed too much like a murder mystery, or something, and the building up with all the suspense to the huge finale with the body seemed to be beneath Atwood. But it's kind of ok for fairy tales to finish like that? And if you see Zenia as being a sort of magical golem that was created by Tony, Charis and Roz, then it makes sense that she should die once they have all 'defeated' her. That is, defeated her by resisting the spells she attempts to cast on them. It is only their belief in her, or their belief in her ability to destroy them, that sustains her.

So, the final question is, does this work? I'm not sure. It's pretty trippy. I think this is the kind of book that could be quite unsatisfying if you just try to understand it at a superficial level, as a good story, because there are quite a few things that just don't gel. But this is why I love Atwood (among like a billion other reasons) - it's so easy to get into a deeper analysis of what she's doing, and once you do, it's so satisfying. I'm loving this book more and more the more I think about it. It's definitely not as tightly constructed as Cat's Eye, which I think comes much closer to being a perfect book, but it's wonderfully dark and gloriously experimental. Weird as it may seem, I'm adding it to my fantasy shelf.


Even More Thoughts

I'm confused by Atwood's stance on feminism, and a superficial google search did nothing to clear things up. What she said about it seems not only slightly contradictory but far more naive than I'm willing to give her credit for. I do wonder, though, if she's more referring to the mainstream feminist movement when she says she's not a feminist? Her characters' disillusionment with it is pretty obvious in both Cat's Eye and The Robber Bride. And their reasons for their disillusionment are excellent. She pokes it full of holes.

I don't know, is it weird that I find the way she writes about women kind of empowering? It just seems so holistic (not the right word), so accepting (not the right word) and almost... celebratory (not the right word) of all aspects of women's existence. Like Moira suggests this book can be read as a satire about what happens when women suppress their supposedly negative qualities. Reading it to me feels like she's defying all the stereotypes and just saying - be. How is that not feminist?

Martine calls this book 'intelligent chick lit'. I kind of like that - maybe my problem is that I don't read enough (read: any) chick lit because I find it mind-numbingly boring. Maybe it's just refreshing to read someone writing intelligently about women.


Atwood-isms that I marked because they're awesome

"Karen wasn't allowed to visit her mother's body in the coffin because Aunt Vi said it was too shocking a thing for a young child, but she knew anyway what it would look like. The same as alive, only more so."

"After that she could join a cult, or something. Be a monk. A monkess. A monkette. Live on dried beans. Embarrass everybody, even more than she does now. But would there be electric toothbrushes? To be holy, would you need to get plaque?"

Back when I was studying Cat's Eye, everything I wrote came out sounding like Margaret Atwood. It's only now that I'm realising just how much of a permanent effect this has had. Outwardly it's gone, but down at the level of punctuation and syntax, I still write a lot like her.
Profile Image for Ferdy.
944 reviews1,098 followers
February 8, 2015

This was a one of kind sort of book where I pretty much hated all the characters because of their ridiculous and irritating ways yet everything about them and their fucked up lives was utterly engrossing. I didn't think it was possible to enjoy a book that contained so many rage inducing characters.

-Even though I LOATHED most of the characters and didn't find their actions remotely realistic they were for the most part weirdly fun to read about.

-Really liked how the story was structured with the back and forth narrative in time/characters. Also, enjoyed the gradual revealing and unfolding of how the protagonists (Roz/Tony/Charis) became friends, how they got to the point where they were at, why they had a mutual hatred of the mythical Zenia, what Zenia did to them, and the whole mystery of Zenia in general.

-All three of the main female characters (Tony, Roz and Charis) were awful, I hated their misogyny and their relationships with and attitude towards men.
I wasn't sure which one of the three protagonist irritated me the most, Tony with her molly coddling and servile attitude towards her husband, Roz with her sexist and judgemental attitude of women, or Charis with her patheticness.
On the whole the female characters were either simpering martyrs, judgemental-female-hating twits, absolutely bonkers, complete doormats or evil-opportunistic-soulless-whores.

-The male characters were no better than the female, they were all so weak and slimy. I rolled my eyes at the general vibe the protagonists had of how their men had to be protected from the female sex because they were such innocent, breakable, little puppies with no minds of their own and women were all predatory and evil. Ugh.
There were no male or female characters who had morals, self-respect, open-mindedness or backbone.

-Loved getting to know about Zenia and how she wormed her way into Tony/Roz/Charis's life by lying, charming and manipulating them. I had to laugh at how easily Zenia 'seduced' their men, it really didn't take much for them to chase after Zenia and leave their wives/family. I don't know why Zenia was blamed for literally everything though when their men more than played their part in destroying their marriages.

-Why on earth would Tony take back her husband after all he'd done? He left her for Zenia and lived with her for over a year and then when he was dumped, Tony just let him waltz back into her life without any questions, grovelling, or explanations. Not only that she tip-toed around her husband and acted like an utter doormat. He was the one who was in the wrong in leaving her for another woman, cheating on her, loving someone else more than her, and not caring about her, yet Tony was the one who acted like she'd done wrong. Also, why was she so cool with being second best to Zenia? She knew her husband loved Zenia far, far more than her and would dump her if she ever wanted him back again but for some unfathomable reason that didn't piss her off, upset her or bother her in any way.
Why would anyone be happy with a partner that was crazy in love with someone else and would leave them without a second thought if they could have another chance with their first choice? I didn't get it. Why would Tony still want him after all he'd done? They didn't even have kids to tie them together, and it wasn't like she couldn't find someone else or even be happy alone. Why wasn't she pissed at him? Why did she blame Zenia for everything? It wasn't as if her husband wasn't more than willing to leave her and cheat on her without once looking back, she acted as if he had no control of himself whatsoever and couldn't make decisions for himself. Ugh, Tony's reaction to him and his affair was unreal.

-Roz was an utter cow. Her attitude towards other women was disgusting, there wasn't one she didn't think badly of in some way or another. The way she bitched about her son's girlfriends and her husband's lovers was vile. She still thought well of her husband despite all his cheating yet all the women he slept with were irredeemable nobodies. Ugh, she basically thought all women were vultures and men were just confused little puppies who couldn't help being led astray by the womenfolk.

-I guess Charis was the most tolerable out of the three, but even she was annoying as hell. Her decades long obsession with Billy was so far-fetched, she hadn't even been with him that long, plus he treated her like crap for most of their relationship (at least Tony's husband was kind to her when they were together, whereas Billy was plain abusive, so why would she miss him?). I couldn't believe she was unable to move on from him when in the grand scheme of things he hadn't actually been in her life for very long. Even when Zenia told her how much of loser and low life he was she was still protecting him. It made no sense.

-It was mind boggling how all of three them were so cool with their husbands cheating on them, leaving them and falling in love with someone else. They were so forgiving, they didn't even want an apology, they were fine with taking them back despite knowing they'd always be second best. I could maybe accept that attitude if they were living in the olden days but they weren't, they could have easily survived on their own and met new people. It was all so bizarre how they reacted to their husbands cheating, lies, and betrayal.

-From all the characters Zenia was the most likeable, despite her betraying her friends by sleeping with their husbands and running away them, at least she wasn't some doormat who let the men in her life walk all over. Unlike Charis, Roz and Tony who were all simpering idiots that were so desperate to keep hold of their men that they took them back without question or apology after being so thoroughly destroyed and hurt by them. Their desperation and weakness for the spineless men in their life was beyond ridiculous. They had no self respect or dignity and they acted like oppressed women who had no choice but to depend on the men in their life. Tony and co didn't need their men for anything yet they were still afraid to lose the cheating, lying, useless, uncaring pigs. It was as if they were no other men in the world or as if they couldn't be happier alone than stuck with a cruel, disloyal husband who would always love someone else better. I really didn't get it.

-Loved the confrontation in the last section between Zenia and the girls. Even after all Zenia had done she still had the upper hand, I was expecting Tony and co to put her in her place and deliver some home truths but they never did. Zenia was the one who scorned them and showed them up for being so thick and idiotic about their men.
I wanted Charis/Tony/Roz to realise that Zenia actually did them a favour by 'taking' their men but it didn't seem to click with them.. They were still blaming her for their ruined relationships when it was actually their men who were most at fault for straying.

-Why were all the men so weak and cowardly? They all fell for Zenia even though they were in committed relationships. Why would they risk so much for a cheap affair/lust?

-What was with Charis's healing powers? I thought she was just deluded or had an over-active imagination or something but then she healed Roz and had that vision? Was Roz just imagining Charis's healing? Was it a coincidence that Charis guessed Zenia's death? Or did she have something to do with it?

-The negative portrayal of both the male and female characters was so insulting, maybe that was the point.. A commentary of sorts on the double standards with the whole demonizing of women and excusing men of any bad they do. Hmm, I'm still not sure.

Even though I LOATHED the way the female and male characters were written, I can't deny that I was thoroughly entertained and intrigued by the plot, the characters and the relationships. I'll definitely be reading more Margaret Atwood in the future.
Profile Image for Ron.
381 reviews87 followers
July 25, 2020
Some time has passed between the day that they'd last seen her, and the day the ghost of Zenia strides through the cafe before the three who knew her. I say “stride” because that is how I picture her. Sleek, purposeful, decisive. I also imagine the fork dropping from Tony's mouth as she spots her in the mirror, because they'd buried Zenia's ashes. She must be a ghost, or a look-a-like, somehow even more beautiful than before.

But if you know the woman, as these three do, you know she is back from the grave. All of her life is much like that stride she has, being that every step has been a calculation, a move of the pawn. Or should I say the queen? The queen takes all.

Zenia fills my first two paragraphs, because her presence is a constant. But, this story is really a story of the other three women. It is Tony's. It is Charis's, and it is Roz's. Their lives fill up the pages of this book, and what matters to the reader. The very best of this book is of their pasts. Through Atwood's gorgeous prose, each of these women's life experiences are revealed, and each character is one in themselves. Atwood has an amazing way of creating completely different personalities. So believable. At first, I was baffled at just how these three women could allow Zenia to manipulate them as she did, then turn and walk away. But then Atwood dives into their childhood memories, and I thought, “yes, I can see now”. By the way, their coming of age stories are so well done. I loved the deep dive into each woman's past, and because of that the first three-quarters of this book is one of five stars.

In the end, some magic is lost in the telling, and my reason for four stars instead of five. I can't even put my finger on it. I know why other readers may not have liked the ending, but that's not what bothers me. I had almost expected it, because in few ways does Zenia lose.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,784 reviews213 followers
October 17, 2021
Published in 1993 and set in Toronto, three women, Tony, Charis, and Roz, are good friends who met in college. Tony becomes a professor of history, Charis is a free spirit teaching yoga, and Roz is a successful businesswoman. Villainess, Zenia, plays on the sympathies of the three women. She lies, connives, and manipulates these women, toying with them and the men they love. She wreaks havoc in their lives.

It is told in three alternating segments in flashback, one for each protagonist, and the three storylines converge in the end. There are many complexities at work in this novel. Zenia exhibits many of the traits of a psychopath (though the term is not used). She is an expert at exploiting vulnerabilities. The women repeatedly give her the benefit of the doubt, trusting her when they should avoid her. There are many references to fairy tales, which provides additional food for thought.

The three main female characters support each other through traumatic times. They keep expecting Zenia to turn into a better person, or act in the same manner as they do. It definitely contains feminist themes. Zenia displays several traits they accept from the men in their lives, which begs the question as to why they have differing expectations of men and women. It examines the idea that positive change can be ignited through negative experiences. I found it darkly fascinating. I am sure it could be the basis for lively discussion in a book group.

Profile Image for Madeline.
771 reviews47k followers
June 29, 2009
"The story of Zenia ought to begin where Zenia began. It must have been someplace long ago and distant in space, thinks Tony; someplace bruised, and very tangled. A European print, hand-tinted, ochre-colored, with dusty sunglight and a lot of bushes in it - bushes with thick leaves and ancient twisted roots, behind which, out of sight in the undergrowth and hinted at only by a boot protruding, or a slack hand, something ordinary but horrifying is taking place.
Or this is the impression Tony has been left with. But so much has been erased, so much has been bandaged over, so much deliberately snarled, that Tony isn't sure any longer which of Zenia's accounts of herself was true. She can hardly ask now, and even if she could, Zenia wouldn't answer. Or she would lie. She would lie earnestly, with a catch in her voice, a quaver of suppressed grief, or she would lie haltingly, as if confessing, or she would lie with a cool, defiant anger, and Tony would believe her. She has before."

The story of three women - Tony, Roz, and Charis - who are friends thanks to their separate involvements with a woman they all knew at college. Zenia is beautiful, intelligent, and incredibly, unbelievably evil. At the beginning of the story it's established that she has died, but five years later the three friends go to lunch together and spot Zenia, very obviously alive. Shit proceeds to hit the fan in a very Atwood-like way, and it is amazing and terrifying.

This book is the evidence I will produce if people ask me why I love Margaret Atwood so much. Unlike other female writers, whose books are usually along the lines of Men Ruin Everything For Us (I'm looking at you, Joyce Carol Oates), Atwood takes a different tactic. Her male characters are, at best, naive and easily manipulated - more children than men. At worst, they are still children, but more like playground bullies trying to prove their own superiority. None of them are ever aware that behind their backs the women are moving in their own separate world, wounding and betraying each other and generally being terrifying bitches. Even the nice women have secret mean streaks that are guaranteed to rear their heads at some point in the story.

So in a nutshell, here's my point: Joyce Carol Oates frequently uses men as the reason for womens' problems (*coughBlondecough*) and clearly thinks they are naturally evil. Margaret Atwood, on the other hand, knows that women are a million times crueler than men can ever hope to be. To put it simply: Oates is a Lifetime Original Movie; Atwood is Mean Girls.
Profile Image for Wendy.
84 reviews8 followers
June 29, 2009
Oh. Margaret, why hath thou forsaken me? This book sucked! Two stars is just me being generous, because it's Margaret Atwood. This was a boring daytime soap opera. It could have been written by Danielle Steele. Where is the feminism? Where is the sarcasm? The satire? The point?

This far-fetched novel is about some desperately evil chick who emotionally tortures 3 women over 3 decades for no apparent reason other than she enjoys it. I couldn't be more bored and had to force myself to read it, like it was a history of Bulgarian ferret dentists, just so I can say I did. It was absolutely painful.

Points for the three sentences about a gay kid coming out to his mom and the two paragraphs of feminist thought by the character Roz. The parts that weren't totally lame could have been summed up in less than a page.

Big fat boo!
Profile Image for Sarah.
533 reviews
March 2, 2011
Update: This review recently got a few likes, bringing it back to my attention. But, honestly? I'm ashamed of it. Because, I'm trying to pretend evil women don't exist. Zenia is obviously an exaggeration...but women and girls do awful things to each other. All the time.

Back in school, I was horribly bullied by girls. Horribly. They'd hit me, shove me against the wall, walk up behind me and pull my skirt up above my waist, trip me as I was getting off the bus. Why do I pretend those things didn't happen? Female solidarity?

We put "bad girls" on a pedestal. But we shouldn't. They're not heroes. They're jerks.

Thank you, Margaret Atwood, for telling the truth.
And, now that I have, maybe I can get some sleep!

Original review:
This book became more and more engrossing as I went along, and I kept changing my mind about it. Here, we're introduced to four women: Tony the detached intellectual, Charis the sensitive earth mother, Roz the hardy businesswoman, and Zenia the femme fatale. That alone makes for an interesting creative experiment, "The Golden Girls" in literary form. (Who knew Blanche Devereux could be so mean?)

Underneath that, it's actually a book about our fears, how they manifest and where they originate. It's about the function and folly of persona. It's about the relationship between the past and the present. Atwood can be very dark and very cynical. Very, very. I disagree with the general consensus that women come off worse than men, overall, as the men in the book are philanderers, pedophiles, and war criminals, the lot of them. Zenia, herself, is less a character than a mirror held to the characters, stirring up their psyches and serving as a common focus between them.

The prose isn't as lovely as that in "The Handmaid's Tale" though is still quite good. And, I've made a new friend in Charis. (Margaret, you were dreadful to her!)
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,112 reviews1,384 followers
May 17, 2016
This novel was different from how I thought it would be. Instead of focusing on Zenia, the undeniable villain of the piece, it focuses on the lives, thoughts, and reactions of the three regular (but very different) women who are affected by her. In the course of reading this 470-page tome, these women began to feel unusually real to me--this morning while I was supposed to be meditating, I was instead thinking about how Tony behaved in her big confrontation with Zenia and what she should have done differently. Then I began to wonder what I might have done in that situation if I'd had the chance, and I realized that no matter how dirty someone has done you, if you're basically a moral, ethical person, your options for revenge are limited. The only thing I could really imagine doing was yelling at Zenia, but she wouldn't have cared at all--she would have just laughed in my face. I felt as powerless as Zenia's actual victims. That's a villain for you.

As detailed as this book is, I realized at the end that a lot of questions weren't answered. What really happened with Billy and Mitch? We've only got Zenia's word for it, and we know how reliable that is. We know a little more about West, but frankly he's not that reliable either. Most of all, we don't know why Zenia did any of this. Ordinarily this sort of open-endedness might annoy me, but in this case it just makes me even more intrigued. And since it's a Margaret Atwood novel, all of this heavy emotional stuff is leavened with a generous amount of humor. As far as I'm concerned, this book is everything a great novel should be.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,326 followers
January 31, 2019
Zenia is made of malice. She has no fear and no morals. She doesn't shrink from confrontation; she has no appreciation whatsoever for risk. She'll tell outrageous lies - cancer, rape, nothing is off limits. She'll spend an entire winter in an uninsulated shack on an island faking cancer, for what? Well, there is a plan, but it doesn't seem worth it. Mostly she just wants to cause pain.

Specifically she wants to cause pain to these three specific women, who are parts of a whole. Tony, representing book smarts; Roz, street smarts; and Charis, who we might as well call soul smarts. Their stories, each of which are flashed back through in turn, contain parallels. Suicide, abuse, woodcutters, axe wounds. Coffee grinders. All three are providers. Everyone changes her name. They all to college together, with Zenia (pronounced Zeenia), who proceeds to steal their boyfriends one by one.

It's not about the boyfriends, who are all utterly hapless. It's about the women, right? Zenia is after the women and she uses men to hurt them. Or she's after money. Or she isn't after anything at all, she's just a force of pain. An "aphid of the soul." The Big Bad Wolf - in female form, because Roz's blazing twin daughters have demanded that all stories have only female characters. When she tells them the story of the Robber Bridegroom - a woman's fiance plans to kill and eat her - they demand it be changed to the Robber Bride. The woman is still a woman. They're both brides.

So this is about women, friendship and enmity between women. Atwood loves to point out that "feminism is often hard going and hard won, sabotaged from within as well as without; that in the war between the sexes there are collaborators as well as enemies, spies, refugees, spectators and conscientious objectors." She loves a good traitor - nine-year-old Cordelia from Cats Eye, the wife holding Offred's hands as she's raped in Handmaid's Tale. Zenia is one of Atwood's best villains and one of literature's best villains. She's not to be made sense of. She's not to be made peace with. She can only be battled.
Profile Image for Kirsten .
1,584 reviews254 followers
September 14, 2015
I read this as part of the 1000 Books To Read Before You Die challenge.

Two thoughts that came to me as I read this book:

1) Catherine Zeta-Jones would be perfect as Zenia!

2) Is this a re-telling of the 3 Little Pigs?

For the first 10-20% of this book, I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy it. I certainly (at first) didn't think it was up to Margaret Atwood's talent.

But, after I got into it, I really enjoyed it. I loved the three women and their tales of their experiences with Zenia. It seemed to me Zenia was not so much the villainess of the piece, but a natural disaster that had to be survived. In the end, that was what it was all about. Survival. Also, they (the women) had to get a point where Zenia no longer had any power over them.

Perhaps the story isn't the 3 Little Pigs, but the story of the Furies of Greek myth. Weren't there 3 of them too? Hmmm...

36 reviews2 followers
March 13, 2010
All this drama over these three losers? I just don't get it. I really don't understand women who find out that their husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends are cheating then go ballistic on the other women. What? The "other woman" is irrelevant, she took no vows, made no commitments, did not pledge her undying (faithful) love to you, the partner did. Really that's beside the point, just couldn't resist a mini-rant.

I actually related to all four women as I seem to have met each of them at some point in my real life, but I didn't need to be told a thousand different ways what their inner lives were about. That's my chief complaint about this book and why I only gave it 2 stars...the telling and retelling of their internal obsessions and struggles became tedious. I would also like to have known more about Zenia, but I do respect the author's decision to leave her shrouded in mystery.

Like some others have said, if this is your first encounter with Margaret Atwood, I strongly urge you to read one or two of her other books before reading this one.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
986 reviews1,113 followers
August 30, 2016
4 and a half star, rounded to 5.

You don’t have to kill someone to destroy their lives. Psychopaths come in many different shapes and sizes, and Zenia is one of the creepiest one I have encountered in any book. Because she takes what made Tony, Roz and Charis good women and uses it against them.

I used to know someone very much like Zenia. For the few months she was around, she managed to make me lose sight of my values and goals, just like a little devil on my shoulder, whispering terrible things and nudging me just a little bit off course… I snapped out of it relatively fast, before any serious damage was done, but when I think back on those few months, I want to crawl under the carpet to hide. All she ever got her greedy hands on at the end was simply a few pieces of clothing, but she dealt a spectacular blow to my ability to trust, and severely damaged my faith in humanity. Just like Zenia, this girl liked to stand there and just fuck shit up. If she slept with a married man, she didn’t feel like she was the one doing anything wrong: if anyone was at fault here, it was that guy, who had been so easy to seduce and compromise. Know the type? I’m sure you’ve met someone like that too.

“The Robber Bride” is the story of three women: Tony, the quiet academic, Roz, the brassy business woman, and Charis, the quiet New Ager. They have very little in common, but have nevertheless bonded over the fact that one woman wormed her way into their lives and ruined them.

Atwood has a thing for women. I do not know what to call it exactly, but she peels the surface off women’s relationships with each other and shows it, warts and all, in the most brutally honest way I have ever seen on a page. Friendship between women, in my experience, is always a complex thing, often tinted with ambiguity. And while men can play a significant role in problematic and difficult situations we cope with, other women are not to be underestimated, even if they prefer to stay behind the curtain. Atwood knows this and writes it all fearlessly in a prose that is both acidic and sharp. Reading this book made me squirm in a way that reminded me of that weird taste on your tongue when you eat too many sour candies. And I really mean that in the best possible way.

The strength of the characterization in this novel is amazing. Through flashbacks, we get to know Tony, Roz and Charis. I didn’t like any of them, for a myriad reasons, but I loved their story anyway, their evolution and transformation. There is, of course, a generation gap issue to consider: they were born in the 1940’s, I was born in the 1980’s. So the way they see relationships between men and women, their incapacity to properly communicate with their partners and the way they suffer through things feels dated to me, but in a completely realistic way. Kind of like discussing dating with my aunt: both of us think the other one is from another planet.

The way Zenia haunts the trio is fascinating, because she knows exactly what will make those women tick, she appeals to what they feel to be their better qualities and uses it against them like a weapon. She turns their strength into a weakness. I’ll be honest, that is simply terrifying and sociopathic.

In short, the “Robber Bride” is a great character study, biting with realism and bittersweet affection between women. If you like Margaret Atwood’s work, do not miss this one.
Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews322 followers
May 24, 2010
With every book I read of Ms. Atwood's, my appreciation of her storytelling talent increases: her ability to construct metaphors that are spot-on and utterly unique; her genre-busting way of writing that defies pigeon-holing (though, it seems, many critics try to pin the "feminist" writer label on her); her method of describing her characters in a hyper-realistic and believable way. "The Robber Bride", while not without its faults (long-windedness, for one) is to me her best work. Her depiction of a triumvirate of friends bound together as a result of a common nemesis: a freak of nature named Zenia hell-bent on leaching onto their lives and stealing their husbands/boyfriends. Sorta-kinda loosely based on Grimm's "The Robber Bridegroom", Atwood turns the fairy tale on its head and comes up with a fairy-tale-esque story of her own, one grounded in reality, yet fanciful enough to be a delight to read.
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