I feel a little sheepish writing this review after I JUST commented on someone’s blog that the only less than favorable reviews I’ve read of Atwood have been for Oryx and Crake and The Penelopiad. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked this book…some parts a lot…but not as much as the others I’ve read. I guess that happens.
In October 1990, when the first Gulf War is brewing, the Soviet Bloc is crumbling, and Canada is in a resession, Zenia comes back from the dead. A group of three women, Tony, Roz, and Charis are having lunch together at a trendy restaurant, The Toxique, when Zenia is first sighted–alive. She was killed in a bombing in Beirut; the three women saw her ashes, attended her funeral. The catchy thing about this book is that things aren’t always what they seem.
What I love about Atwood is her careful characterization. The novel gives the stories of each of the women whose common thread is Zenia–who lets face it, is a cold manipulative um…I’d like to type the word, really I would, but I won’t…you get the point. :) While I found some similarities in each woman, namely their ability to be duped again and again by Zenia, they were each so different, and Atwood is able to tease out these subtleties in each woman’s section. Not as obvious as Barbara Kingsolver’s narratives in The Poisonwood Bible, but each woman had a very distinct voice and personality (well, and each section is written from third person narrative–not first, which also makes a big difference).
What I could have done without: What is it with this book and mothers?? With each woman’s story comes an explanation of her childhood and her relationship with her mother. Are the mothers to blame for the negative qualities each woman possesses? What do the mothers have to do with Zenia? Honestly, I didn’t get the connection and because of that I got bored during these sections (which is a big part in the lower rating). I wanted the meat of the story–the Zenia story. And I got it, but there was too much in the middle.
All in all The Robber Bride is an engaging story. Atwood’s writing is beautiful as always and she always leaves just enough bait dangling to keep the pages turning. She’s never a “quick” read for me, but I don’t mind–remember that “lit-ra-chur” question going around a few weeks ago? Atwood falls into that category for me. I would recommend it, but I would recommend The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin first. This one was reminiscient of Cat’s Eye with its focus on female relationships, but it still very different. I think Atwood is trying to tell us that women are not to be messed with! Ha!