The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.

by Lily Wren

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Contemporary Fiction
Publication date: Sept 1993
Rating: 4 star rating

My third attempt at reading, enjoying and finishing a Margaret Atwood novel. It’s third time lucky which has demonstrated that persistence surely pays off. I struggled with Alias Grace and got about a third of the way through before giving up. I think this was more to do with not being in the right mood than the book itself. I read all of The Handmaid’s Tale but just couldn’t connect with any of the characters and the style in which the book was written in wasn’t for me. It all made me feel rather inadequate. It reminded me of the times when I would be at a party or club standing in a corner on my own, feeling somewhat confused and left out of things. Everyone seemed to be having a good time except me. Everyone seemed to love The Handmaid’s Tale, except me….

So, onto The Robber Bride. It’s a pretty straightforward story and written in a style I can read without having to repeat the sentence several times over before it makes sense (sadly, and possibly due to age and stress, the ability to understand and retain information is becoming problematic for me). The Robber Bride is set in the 1990’s and tells the tale of three forty-something year old friends whose lives have become infected by the legendary, sociopathic, femme fetal called Zenia whom they have known since college. Their stories are told in turn. How did they became involved with and be taken in by such a woman? How has she been allowed to impact so negatively upon their lives?  Atwood also gives us a glimpse into each woman’s childhood which enables us to see how they may have been taken in by Zenia and how she was able to find their individual weakness and go for the ‘kill’.

We really don’t get to know much about Zenia although she is a constant threat running throughout the book. She is larger than life with a character something akin to a predatory hawk sizing up and seizing her prey. Zenia holds an almost mythical status, a legend who breezes in and out of their lives taking what she can whilst managing to seduce them into believing whatever she says. There are times where you do wonder whether such a person has existed in the lives of these women or whether she is in fact one and all of them. She ‘physically’ appears throughout the book only a small number of times yet her character manages to seep out of all 466 pages of the book.

The tale of the Robber Bride is said to be the female version of  The Robber Bridegroom, a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.  The Robber Bridegroom is a rather gruesome tale of a chap who lures young women with the promise of love, marriage and wealth but where the final result is that he and his fellow crew fill the ‘brides to be’ full of booze and eat them (or something along those lines).

The Robber Bride is definitely more subtle than that. However, you are left in no doubt that Zenia must be some kind of sociopath. She does the things she does for no other reason other than because she can. She takes advantage of her prey and is quick to recognise and seize upon each vulnerability. She takes no prisoners. I’m very glad I have never knowingly known a Zenia…..

I enjoyed reading the Robber Bride. I thought the characters were very well written, sympathetic and with very well thought out back stories. The writing style flowed along nicely and, whilst I did get a little distracted on a couple of occasions (becoming impatient and wanting the book to hurry up and finish), I did overall enjoy the story and the characters.  I’m also quite relieved to say I have read and liked an Atwood book! Success!! I shall no longer be found in the kitchen at parties looking sad, dazed and confused and alone.

young Margaret Atwood