10. The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood

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10. The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood

Post  jrpstonecarver on Tue Feb 23, 2010 3:37 am

I didn't get this book. Of 466 pages it seemed as if 460 were back story, and there was little action of any kind. Instead we get a pseudo-drama, expressed in the thoughts and discussions of three women: Tony, Charis, and Roz. What little story we get revolves around a fourth woman, Zenia.

The three main characters are actually too well drawn. We don't need to know every little detail about their lives to understand why they might be reacting this way, but we get that detail in any case. And more. And still more.

Tony's a history professor with a specialization in battles. She's a fairly ineffective and self effacing person as well. Her real name is Antonia.

Charis is another ineffective character, but this time with no real talents she can earn a living from. She does, however, have a spiritual side that "works". Her real name is Karen.

Roz is a business woman - someone with power and money - but who is also hopeless in her own way. In this case it's her marriage she cannot manage. Her real name is Rosalind.

None of these characters has it all together. In fact, though they could each potentially be interesting in some sense, collectively I found them pretty annoying. They whine and worry but rarely do anything, and when they try they fail. Every time. Then they whine about failing. Roz's twin daughters are a lot more interesting than anyone else here, and they're only bit parts.

There might be something important about the fact that Tony, Roz, and Charis all operate under something other than their real names too, but if so I can't tell you what that might be.

Zenia is something else. She's a liar and a thief, and ruthless about getting whatever it is she wants - including the man each of the three main characters loves - but that's about all we learn of her. She's the central mystery around which the book is written and we never figure her out. Never.

The story is told mostly in flashbacks - sometimes nested - and it can be a bit hard to keep track of if you set the book down at the wrong point. Unfortunately I found it easy to set it down just about anywhere given the vast back story. Complicating matters, at least for me, is that I didn't really relate to any of the characters. They were either boring or irritating, but never become important or interesting.

The only reason I continued reading The Robber Bride is because I've read other work by Atwood and really enjoyed it. This one, however, just didn't work, at least not for me. It needed both something significant to happen and a resolution.

Oh, and I didn't like Charis's spiritual muck. Or rather, the fact that it "worked" in some way seemed wrong. If she'd believed in it but nothing had come of it, fine. Instead we get a couple of mystical but completely unexplained incidents that make no sense. Then again I'm less spiritual than most bricks, and such tripe is liable to irk me in any case.

Perhaps Atwood is making some feminist point, but if so I missed it, along with just about everything else.

If you want to read something good by Atwood, try The Handmaid's Tale, or Oryx and Crake. I'd skip this one.
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