The Robber Bride

The Robber Bride

by Margaret Atwood


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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale

One of Margaret Atwood’s most unforgettable characters lurks at the center of this intricate novel like a spider in a web. The glamorous, irresistible, unscrupulous Zenia is nothing less than a fairy-tale villain in the memories of her former friends. Roz, Charis, and Tony—university classmates decades ago—were reunited at Zenia’s funeral and have met monthly for lunch ever since, obsessively retracing the destructive swath she once cut through their lives. A brilliantly inventive fabulist, Zenia had a talent for exploiting her friends’ weaknesses, wielding intimacy as a weapon and cheating them of money, time, sympathy, and men. But one day, five years after her funeral, they are shocked to catch sight of Zenia: even her death appears to have been yet another fiction. As the three women plot to confront their larger-than-life nemesis, Atwood proves herself a gleefully acute observer of the treacherous shoals of friendship, trust, desire, and power.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385491037
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/28/1998
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 86,830
Product dimensions: 5.13(w) x 7.96(h) x 1.16(d)

About the Author

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; and her most recent, MaddAddam. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.


Toronto, Ontario

Date of Birth:

November 18, 1939

Place of Birth:

Ottawa, Ontario


B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967

Reading Group Guide

1. In The Robber Bride Tony says that people like Zenia don't get into your life unless you invite them in. What devices does Zenia use to first gain entry into the lives of Tony, Charis, and Roz? How does she alter her techniques to attract and control men?

2. Is there one character you identify with more than others? Why?

3. On the surface, Tony, Charis, and Roz are not a bit alike yet similarities exist. For example, during their childhoods they each developed what could be called "dual" identities. How do the psychological devices they developed as children help or hinder them? In what ways do their own children differ from them?

4. While seeming all powerful, the constantly changing Zenia lacks a center of her own. Is it possible for women to achieve the same kinds of power that men do in today's society, or do they have to break rules and operate as outlaws? Discuss Charis's grandmother. Do women have a kind of power that is different from male power?

5. Magic can mean two things: sleight of hand played by stage magicians, and true "magic," or supernatural ability. What role does each kind of "magic" play in the novel, if any?

6. The name of the restaurant where Zenia reappears is called The Toxique. What role does naming—of persons and places—play in this novel?

7. War provides a subtext, and even possibly a framework, for this novel. The male characters are not the only ones affected by it. How are the others affected? How is Zenia affected? Which wars are mentioned?

8. Read the poem "The Robber Bridegroom," reversing gender as you read. What does this poem, taken together with the poem "She," tell us about the nature of evil?

9. Discuss the poem "The Loneliness of the Military Historian". What does it tell us about differences between the way men and women traditionally deal with violence? Does Atwood make a value judgment?

10. The American writer Lewis Hyde has asked, "Why is the Trickster the Messenger of the Gods?" Is Zenia a trickster? Is she also a messenger of the gods, and how?

11. Is there a difference between the lies others tell and Zenia's lies? Are there "good" lies and "bad" lies? Do the hearers play a role in the construction of these lies?

12. Think of female villains from literature and film. What do they seem to have in common? Is female villainy different from the male variety?

13. William Blake said of Milton's Paradise Lost that Milton often seemed to be of the devil's part without knowing it. Does Atwood have a sneaking sympathy for Zenia? Do you?

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The Robber Bride 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Robber Bride is a book full of twists and turns. It leaves on the edge of your seat and makes you want to keep on reading. Tony, Roz, and Charis met under odd circumstances. They had all been badly wounded by Zenia. Zenia is a vindictive character whose only pleasure comes from the hurt of others. Zenia befriends the three and then finds what would hurt each of them the most, the man in their life. Not only does Zenia take away each man, but she also finds it necessary to completely destroy each man. For Charis and Roz Zenia is successful in demolishing each man, but for Tony's beloved West she cannot win. Through out the story you become more acquainted with the three characters. All three have lost their husbands to Zenia. Margaret Atwood did a superb job with this novel. Her ability to makes you actually know the character makes the book some how comes alive. It's like you can relate to the characters. At one point they're eating lunch at Toxique and it's almost like you can see what they see. Atwood really gets into the minds of her characters. She shows you a simple instance, such as going out to eat, from each perspective. At times her language can be a bit confusing, but at the same time it intrigues you even more. I really like the fact that she chose three completely different characters and was able to bring them all together and make it work. The Robber Bride is a book for anyone who enjoys being engulfed by a piece of writing. I recommend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Whether you're a reader or a writer, this book is a classic. The three women and their long history with the elusive Robber bride will entertain the reader, mesmerize the writer. Atwood is at the top of her craft with this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Atwood weaves a tale of 3 very different women ( Roz, Charis, & Tony) who are similar in their personal lives. These women attract men who use them for personal satisfaction and they allow themselves to become bulldozed by a very clever and ruthless woman, Zenia. The events of changing times - war,the drug culture, exploration of ones civil liberties, influences their future. Does Atwood interject some of her own experiences into the book?
kalyka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1993 Toronto, three unlikely friends - Tony, an eccentric history professor specializing in battles, Roz, a highly successful business executive, and Charis, a quirky salesperson working at an esoteric shop, have nothing in common, except Zenia. While having their monthly lunch at the Toxique, they all spot her. But why is she alive and looking better than ever when all three women went to her funeral?The novel then details the stories of the three protagonists and of how Zenia has infiltrated and affected their lives; Tony's in the sixties when they were in college, Charis's in the seventies, and finally Roz's in the eighties. All three, in their own words, describe their respective childhoods and how they have come to meet Zenia, who has never given any of the three women the same life story. They also come to realize - a bit too late - that Zenia is much more cunning and manipulative than she lets on, and how she uses her opponents' weakness as a weapon. And she uses that weapon effectively and without mercy, seducing all three women's chosen partners turn by turn.All the main characters, surprisingly, can be related to, in a different way. Tony is a very imaginative woman, and able to recreate battles with only a map and peppercorns and dried lentils, which can be representative of a child. Charis, while being middle-aged, is stuck in self-discovery, like an eternal teenager. Roz, on the other hand, has entered adulthood with gusto, and represents the modern superwoman; the one who works outside the home while taking care of house, home and the children. Finally, Zenia is a force of nature none can control. Beautiful, intelligent and cunning, she leaves destruction and chaos in her wake. And what is nature, if not chaotic?This novel isn't just about three women who have come together in the wake of another's devious betrayal, it's a reflection on the nature of friendship and trust between women. Feminism is also a recurring theme in this novel, as is the war of he sexes and how one uses the power struggle between men and women to her own advantage.Just as Zenia has seduced the men in Tony, Charis and Roz's lives, Margaret Atwood has seduced me with her magnificent prose.4.5/5
ilovecookies on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favourite Margaret Atwood far. Three female friends get together when a fourth friend dies. However, this fourth friend was not really a friend but a negative force that impacted their lives in a big way. The book is mostly flash backs to the 70's and each woman's story is told and followed to the present.
eljabo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are writers and there are WRITERS. Margaret Atwood falls in the latter category. I've loved every single one of her books. I'm not sure why I haven't read more of them. I should pick her books over the trashy, teeny-bopper vampire books I've been reading. I found myself only reading this book when it could have my undivided attention. I didn't want to miss a single syllable. Yes, it took me longer than normal to read, but I enjoyed being able to truly savor the words. And, Margaret Atwood is definitely a master of words. Vivid characters, engaging writing, strong storytelling -- it was a terrific book to read. I loved the way the story flowed together -- three different points in view, numerous points in time and one common thread tying everything together. It was fascinating to see how encounters with one not-so-nice person could spark life-long friendships with three women who didn't have much else in common. Some folks have written that Zenia was way too bad. She WAS pretty bad, but occasionally I caught glimpses of some buried humanity. It made the story more believable.
SMU54 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very crappy book by a very great writer.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Margaret Atwood¿s writing is at its finest in The Robber Bride - a novel about three middle-aged women friends who first meet as college students. Their friendship is strengthened through encounters with Zenia, a cunning and beautiful woman with a penchant for enchanting men and wreaking havoc on their lives and the lives of their significant others. The story opens in the Toxique (conjuring up the words toxic, intoxicating, and toxin), an unusual restaurant in Toronto where Charis, Tony, and Roz are meeting for lunch. It is many years after their college experiences and a few years past Zenia¿s funeral¿although Zenia is always there in spirit - in the atmosphere and their unspoken words, and lurking in their shared history. So, when the physical, living Zenia (more beautiful then ever and with enhanced breasts and skin) walks into the Toxique, no one is entirely surprised.Atwood spins her tale from the present, back to the past, and returns to the present - revealing the rich and complex inner lives of her characters and weaving together a story about truth, lies, and the paradox of good and evil existing at the same time and within a single person. A major theme of the novel is the idea of duality. Atwood writes about Tony:'She looks like a very young old person, or a very old young person; but then, she¿s looked that way ever since she was two.' -from The Robber Bride, page 19-Tony Fremont is obsessed with history - specifically with war - and views the world both forwards and backwards. Abandoned by her mother, and somewhat of a loner throughout her childhood and into her young adult years, Tony creates an alter ego: Tonmerf Ynot (her name backwards) who is powerful and courageous.Charis believes in spirits and possesses the gift to heal and see into the future. But as a child named Karen, Charis was filled with rage fueled by an abusive upbringing. These dual parts of her personality create conflict for Charis, but also define who she has become.Roz, a wealthy business woman, is both Catholic and Jewish - two conflicting religions she is unable to reconcile. Her twin daughters are a physical embodiment of the duality in Roz¿s life .And finally there is Zenia - a woman whose past is elusive. She is outwardly beautiful and charming, adept at uncovering exactly what everyone needs. But what lies beneath her exterior charm is a woman of contradictions and mystery. Zenia is almost a mystical creature, one to be admired and feared.Atwood¿s language in this book is rich and gorgeously constructed, baring the souls of her characters while weaving a compelling mystery. Disturbing and dark at times, The Robber Bride evokes what is essentially human about all of us, including those emotions we are most likely to conceal. When Atwood shows us Zenia¿s character, we cannot look away:'Zenia is full of secrets. She laughs, she throws her secrets casually this way and that, her teeth flashing white; she pulls more secrets out of her sleeves and unfurls them from behind her back, she unrolls them like bolts of rare cloth, displaying them, whirling them like gypsy scarves, flourishing them like banners, heaping them one on top of another in a glittering, prodigal tangle.' -from The Robber Bride, page 179-The Robber Bride is the 6th Atwood book I have read - and it is by far my favorite of hers to date. Readers who sink into this amazing book will not soon forget its strong female characters and dark edges.Highly recommended.
AJBraithwaite on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed reading the novel, but found Zenia too unremittingly evil to be believable, while Charis was just plain annoying!
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The narrative of The Robber Bride is told through the eyes of three unlikely friends - assertive businesswoman Roz, New Ager Charis, and college professor Tony. They had been brought together by the machinations of a fourth friend (or "friend," better) Zenia, who ruined their lives and then died on them. Or not - they see her again years later when they get together for lunch. Much of the story is told in flashbacks, each of the women's encounters with Zenia many years earlier, leading up to the present and their bewilderment at seeing her again. Atwood writes compelling female characters, as usual, but the actual plot is too unstructured for my liking, and the ending is left too open. It's not Margaret Atwood's most pivotal work, but it's engaging enough for a quick read.
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I¿ve read almost all the Atwood novels now, at least everything but the obscure ones, and this is my favorite. Why? The characters and the skill with which Atwood draws them for the reader. There are three women, all with very unique and distinctive characters, who all have their men ¿stolen¿ by what has to be one of the most evil villains in literature, the robber bride. I say the men were stolen, but they were duplicitous in their own downfall, of course.This is not some cerebral, fancy-parlor novel of manners, but down-to-earth and grounded in real sin. Atwood spends considerable time and pages drawing the characters of the three victim-women, and detailing their interaction with the robber bride. I have to confess, after this was over and the denouement about to begin, that I had no idea how the novel would end. Surely there would be no cliche-ridden shoot out!. And I was not disappointed, but very satisfied with the ending that Atwood imagined for the readers.Highly recommended.
vhoeschler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like this book because I find the story line to be at once disturbing and intriguing. My main drawback with the book is the characters; I do not find a single one of them likeable or relatable. I am intuitive and confrontational. If I ever was in a stiuation similar that of the three main characters, I would be incredibly leery if not entirely vengeful. I resent how all of these women could be so destroyed by one human being.
dablackwood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
couldn't get through it - too dense - I just never cared about the characters
strandbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't read a Margaret Atwood book I didn't like. This was the weakest one so far though. The story revolves around 3 women whose lives were ruined by a college friend, Zenia. Each woman is very different and larger than life, but so well written I found them believable. I had an issue with Zenia and the lack of characterization there. She was more of an evil force than a person. Atwood probably created this feeling on purpose, but it annoyed me. I wanted to understand why she was manipulative and conniving. The book never answers that.
mrsjwilloughby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Atwood. Especially enjoyed 'The Blind Assassin' and 'Alias Grace'. 'The Robber Bride' doesn't disappoint either. I defy any female not to identify with at least one, if not all of the characters in this book. Love, lust, jealousy, betrayal, heartbreak; it's all here. A fascinating tale spun out deliciously right through to the end.
KatharineDB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Again - Atwood. Again- a great novel. Explores the insanity of the politics of friendship between women ..
jlparent on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Margaret Atwood - this covers how three women were brought together by the betrayal of another woman who seems to exist JUST to cause strife and turmoil. It's not my favorite of hers, but it's a solid read and captured me immediately - like every Atwood, that is!
Laura400 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book by a masterful author. It was the rare long book that I didn't want to end. In fact, as Atwood herself says in an almost meta aside, the end seems almost arbitrary. The three main characters are so fully realized that we can believe they continue on after the last period on the last page.
flydodofly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The three main characters are connected by a wicked Zenia, a mysterious woman, adulteress and a liar, and - the best friend to each of them at some point. Zenia sounds almost like Xenia, which translates as hospitality, and guest-friendship, simplified it can even mean - friendship. The three women are so very much different in character that it seems unthinkable they would ever matter to each other. However, united against Zenia, they develop an unlikely kind of friendship and lean on each other for help and comfort in Zenia-stricken times. In her wake, Zenia, in her turn, leaves the women desolate, having to rethink their futures, but she also offers them a mirror, which helps them focus, and find what is important to them and who they are. So in the end, when she is finally gone, they feel strangely connected to her, thankful and accepting.
readingrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully crafted story about three women the reader gets to know very well and one that remains an enigma throughout. I was drawn in from the start to the finish.
amerynth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Margaret Atwood is one of those writers that really knows how to cut to the core of human nature and display its weaknesses and strengths in powerful characters. That said, I found "The Robber Bride," which tells the story of three women who are manipulated by Xenia, a beautiful pathological liar, to be one of her weaker novels. The characters, while well-drawn and filled with backstory but are also patently unlikeable and annoying. It made it hard for me to be particularly enthusiastic about picking up the book to read on. I also found the ending to be sort of abrupt and tacked on as well. I've loved her other novels (Cat's Eye and of course The Handmaid's Tale in particular) but this one just fell sort of flat for me.
autumnesf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book about 3 women that have been victimized by one other woman. All have had their men taken by the 4th. Very easy read and kept your attention trying to figure out what the angle was.
bexaplex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A history professor, real estate developer and hippie are taken in by a woman (pretending?) to be their friend, who wreaks havoc on their lives.This isn't my favorite Atwood ¿ her male characters are always awful, but these are sneakily awful, turning out to be awful after you've been told they were great. There's also a message here about the difference between friendship and manipulation. Sure, there's the intent of the participants, but there's also something about the nature of the communication: Zenia draws out secret hidden wounds from the past like an evil analyst, while the friends react to each other as they are now. There's something voyeuristic and weird about reading the ghastly stuff that has happened to the characters in the past, making you feel more like Zenia, the intruder. The scenes with the three friends together have a different tone, and they include charming and practical details of human interaction, like Roz trying to subtly pay for Charis's stuff.
thioviolight on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is now one of my favorite Margaret Atwood books. The story(ies) are wonderfully told, with compelling characters who can easily be related to. They have fully realized personalities distinct from each other, all very believable. I enjoyed the read from start to finish. Atwood is a master of the craft!
DoraG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a careful study of the emotional wake left behind by one woman. The prose is fast-moving, yet thoughtful, unraveling an enormously compelling web of stories.