Review: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

by Kim on October 12, 2010 · 28 comments

Post image for Review: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Robber Bride
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fiction
Year: 1998
Acquired: Bought from Borders
Rating: ★★★★½

One Sentence Summary: A “frenemy” seems to come back from the dead, taunting the three women who’s lives she already tore apart once.

One Sentence Review: I love everything I’ve read by Margaret Atwood, and this book is no exception.

Why I Read It: Just because I really wanted to.

Long Review: I’m a major fangirl of Margaret Atwood (The Blind Assassin is still my favorite book from this year), so this is more of a gush than a review. Be warned, that’s all. While The Robber Bride is not my favorite of Atwood’s books, but that really doesn’t mean anything because I still really loved the book.

The Robber Bride is set in present-day Toronto, Ontario, and focuses on college acquaintances turned friends, Roz, Charis, and Tony. At the beginning of the book, they’re meeting at a restaurant for lunch when Zenia, a “frenemy” who recently died, shows up, very much alive. (“Frenemy” is not exactly the right word, it just makes me laugh when I make an excuse to use it!) The book then splits off to tell the three stories of how Zenia became part of each of their lives, stealing away their beaus and leaving a mess whenever she went.

First off, Atwood is sooooo good at structuring her books. In this one, she has three major storylines going on, but gives each of her main characters such a distinct personality that it’s never unclear what story we’re in. She maintains these shifting perspectives throughout the book, a feat I’m a little in awe of.

There are tons of symbolic sorts of things too – the structure of the chapters, plot parallels to fairy tales, numerology, and shapeshifting all have a role in the story without being intrusive or making the reader feel like you should be thinking more. They’re sort of like hidden gems – investigate if you want.

The characters of Roz, Charis, and Tony are just so good! She captures the sense of how friends work – covering for each other, dropping everything when needed, but still being able to be annoyed with quirks you dislike. Even though one is a professor who studies war, another a successful business woman, and the third a new-age hippie, I wanted to be friends with all of them and could see how they were friends too.

In contrast, Zenia is so awful. As a reader we never really get to know her, other than through the memories of the other characters. Zenia is never the center of a storyline, she just jumps in with this phantom quality – a malevolent spirit that comes into each of the women’s lives, pretends to be a victim, then wreaks havoc before disappearing again.

This puts the reader in a situation where we never know more than the characters, but also have an outside perspective where feel like we can see Zenia’s motives even when Roz, Charis, and Tony can’t. But of course we can’t either, which just makes all of Zenia’s lies and fabricated lives even more difficult to discern.

The book is just flat out good, from start to finish. I’d wanted to read this book for a long time, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Other Reviews: Caribousmom | Shelf Love | Adventures in Reading |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin October 12, 2010 at 7:38 am

Ok, you’ve sold me! I’ve loved everything of Margaret Atwood’s that I’ve read so far (four to date), and this one sounds really intriguing. I will add it to the list!

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Kim October 12, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Erin: Yay, good! It is a really intriguing book, full of lots of twists I didn’t really see coming and great characters.

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Paul McQuiston October 12, 2010 at 8:13 am

I’ve had Atwood’s The Year of the Flood recommended to me several times over now and plan to read it soon. Your review of The Robber Bride definitely it moved it up the queue. I love multiple, concurrent narratives, so I’m looking forward to dipping my toes in.

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Kim October 12, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Paul McQuinston: This is a great example of multiple narratives and shifting perspectives, each one really well done. I’m looking forward to Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake.

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SuziQoregon October 12, 2010 at 9:30 am

I really must read more Atwood. I’ve only read two (Handmaid’s Tale and Cat’s Eye) so far, but they both were so fascinating in very different ways.

This one sounds quite intriguing, but I keep hearing such good things about The Blind Assassin that I think that might be the next Atwood book I pick up.

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Kim October 12, 2010 at 8:10 pm

SuziQOreton: I haven’t read Cat’s Eye, but I think all of her books are informally in the TBR line right now. I love, love, loved The Blind Assassin in a way that just made me incoherent. So good.

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Steph October 12, 2010 at 10:35 am

I am by no means a Margaret Atwood fan girl, but this does sound like the type of her books that I would like. I always enjoy her books where she focuses on female relationships, like Cat’s Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale, because those are the ones I think she really nails.

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Kim October 12, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Steph: I think she does really nail female relationships in this one, both the way friends come together when they’re needed and the way people who are not good for us can weasel their way into our lives over and over again. It’s interesting how well she gets both sides of it.

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Teresa October 12, 2010 at 11:05 am

I can’t quite decide if this or The Blind Assassin is my favorite Atwood because I love them both so much. This one doesn’t seem to be as popular as I think it deserves to be, so I’m happy to see that you enjoyed it.

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Kim October 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Teresa: I think The Blind Assassin slightly edges this one out, but that might just be because I read it as part of a book club with friends and we had so much fun puzzling it out and gushing over things.

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lisa (the little reader) October 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm

i’m embarrassed to admit that i have never read any Atwood before. i will have to do something about this…

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Kim October 12, 2010 at 8:14 pm

lisa: Yes, read some Atwood! The Handmaid’s Tale is a pretty short one, in comparison to this and The Blind Assassin. It’s a pretty representative example, even if it’s more dystopian and sort of sci fi.

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Valerie October 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm

What a coincidence — today I picked up “The Blind Assassin” as a used book from the library, and then I see your blog post! I’ll try to read “The Blind Assassin” sooner rather than later. “The Robber Bride” sounds like a good story, too.

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Kim October 12, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Valerie: That is a coincidence, and yes, sooner rather than later :)

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Trisha October 12, 2010 at 8:48 pm

I have to read more Atwood. I adored The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’ve heard such wonderful things about the rest of her books, but for some reason, I’ve yet to pick up another of her books.

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Kim October 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Trisha: I’ve been reading her slowly – The Handmaid’s Tale in college, and The Blind Assassin in January. I like reading them spread apart, I think, so I get to savor them individually.

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Jenny October 13, 2010 at 5:39 am

I love the word “frenemy” too. It’s used in a throwaway line on one of my favorite ever TV shows (Wonderfalls), and the line makes me giggle every time I watch it. Or think about. I’m giggling now. :p

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Kim October 14, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Jenny: I love Wonderfall! Boyfriend and I watched the whole series last year and thought it was so funny. I’m sad it didn’t make it… “Frenemy” is one of those words that just makes me laugh all the time because it’s such a goofy word. Yay for finding ridiculous excuses to use it.

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S. Krishna October 13, 2010 at 8:20 am

I’m so glad this book was so good! I hope to read it at some point.

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Kim October 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm

S. Krishna: Sometimes I think it’s hard to be objective with favorite authors, but even with that, I’m confident this book is just really well done on all the counts that I judge fiction by, regardless of it being by Atwood.

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Belle October 13, 2010 at 11:07 am

I haven’t read this one yet – your review has definitely put it on my TBR list. I really loved your one line summary, too!

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Kim October 14, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Belle: Awesome, I’m glad. I sometimes have a really hard time with the one sentence summary parts, but this one seemed easier. It misses a lot of the nuances of the plot, but it’s at least the main part.

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Sheila (Bookjourney) October 13, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I have yet to read Atwood. I know – I know. And I call myself a book lover. GAH.

I have the handmaids Take just haven’t started it yet. :)

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Kim October 14, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Sheila: It happens. I have a lot of authors that I should have read but just haven’t yet. Start with The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s pretty short, but also I think representative of a lot of Atwood’s themes as a writer.

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Trish October 15, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Total fan-girl of Atwood as well. I’ve read this one but still prefer Blind Assassin. Cat’s Eye was also creepy in the way this one was–the cruelty of women and “frenemies”! Atwood is a master at characterization, huh?

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Kim October 18, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Trisha: I think I like Blind Assassin a little bit better too, but this one is still awesome. I can’t wait to read Cat’s Eye.

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Wendy October 24, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Oh, I am so glad you loved this book – it is one of my favorite Atwood novels…”just flat out good”…yes, I totally agree! Thanks for the link love :)

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Kim October 25, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Wendy: No problem – I love finding books that other people love. And this one is just awesome :)

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