by Margaret Atwood
A novel that explores how darkness can slip in unnoticed, disguised as something completely different and then grow slowly in place, fully entwining itself, until it's too late.
Perhaps I should first confess. I went looking for books by Margaret Atwood after doing the "I Write Like" analysis which I heard about on public radio. When I put in my favorite blog entries, her name came up as who "I write like." Interested, and thinking that I'd enjoy reading someone whose style I like (how's that for humble?), I found her at my local library and decided to try The Robber Bride.
I liked it. Atwood skillfully weaves together the lives of three women who, without mysterious Zenia, would not have become friends. She enters each of their lives at different times, occupies, then engulfs, then leaves. Zenia's effect on each woman is different, but always devastating.
Atwood allows the story to unfold gently, naturally, as you might learn about events through lunches with friends. Like getting to know someone personally. Overall, the book is as much a character study as anything else.
The plot is good--very intriguing--and the storyline twists and evolves in ways one doesn't expect. Atwood subtly employs foreshadowing…so subtly that you don’t even realize it until long after the events have come to pass…but more often than not, despite the foreshadowing you eventually recognize, the story twists around again and makes you re-examine the women’s relationships in a new way, beyond the masked ideas. Several times, the surprises caught me completely off guard and kept me turning pages.
More importantly to me, the character development is sublime. For each of the four women, we begin to know them slowly, and start to understand their personality through interactions with the others and pieces of their history. As we slowly gather their story, we begin to feel we understand them as people. Then the author reveals key events crucial to our full understanding of the character, changing our perspective yet again. This left me thinking, “ah, now I really understand her” more than once. Except for Zenia, whose character becomes more enigmatic through the very end.
Without giving anything away, I will say that, faced with Zenia’s character, I found myself wondering what makes some women “man eaters” and, wondering even more what draws men to certain women like moths to a 1000-watt spotlight.
Unfortunately, I found the dénouement unsatisfying. I will not give anything away, but after we get to know these women so well, the ending felt empty as we see how they deal with the final situation. I just felt that these strong women would have had different feelings and would have acted another way.
After being drawn into such an absorbing, intriguing novel perhaps I so identified with the main characters that I felt I knew them…a great accomplishment for an author, and definitely such that my second-guessing Atwood’s ending is ill advised.
Regardless, any novel that I find myself puzzling over after I finish it will earn good marks with me. Not only did I think about an alternate ending I might have liked better, but I also thought more about each of the characters and found myself wondering what the real “truth” was for Zenia. I recommend the book.
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