Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: "The Robber Bride" by Margaret Atwood

I am very surprised that one of the most moving, personal and engaging books I have read in the last half of 2014 is by a writer who I had essentially written off. A few years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s most famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and found it tedious and boring, little more than some proto-feminist gobbledygook that seemed to only have been written to take up space in one of Time Magazine’s rigged lists of greatest books ever written. But after reading The Robber Bride, one of her lesser-known books, I can say with pride that I was wrong, and she is so much more than that. This long book, at 520 pages, goes to some really dark places, but never loses its humorous edge. Another thing that this novel with never ever be called is “feminist”. Not to say that it is necessarily anti-women, but the novel shows, in great lurid and painful detail, a trio of women whose flaws and shortcomings come to dominate their life, and it all comes in the guise of one of the most awful and reprehensible characters that I have unluckily come across in literature. Through this person, the problems of the three women come to represent many broader ideas than just female ones. The novel touches on our need to validate ourselves through unviable means such as our past, our careers or even our significant others, and the real unsolvable mystery as to why some people can’t help but ruin others, and the somewhat positive side effects that occur when we are smart enough to learn our lesson. The lesson in this book is represented by Zenia, a literal human viper that seems hell bent on using and discarding all the ideals the three female leads hold sacred. One day, the three women; Tony, a cold professor of war, Charis, a vulnerable clerk at a New Age shop and Roz, a hotheaded editor of a feminist magazine, meet for lunch as they do once a month and spot Zenia as she is leaving. They thought she had died years ago, and her presence immediately brings them back to the times in the past where Zenia had come into their lives, wreaked havoc, and left without a care in the world. We learn of the hold Zenia had on the men in their lives, some with worse stories than others, and how this affects them now. It is really cool how Atwood connects every thread of the story in a way that adds layers to Zenia’s heartless manipulation. Do these women really despise Zenia for taking there man away, some of whom they didn’t really love to begin with, or do they hate her because she is kind of a mirror that is held up to all of their shortcomings that need to change if they want to be happy? We learn about there neglectful childhoods, again, some worse than others, but all long before Zenia entered there life. And as the book’s epigraph states, she does teach them about the need for independence and surrounding yourself with love, with an ending that is a bit tacked on, but still quite beautiful. Check this book out, a hidden gem from an author who has much more to give past her hype.

Rating: 5/5

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