London, August 2018
Tony, Roz and Charis meet for an arranged catch-up to be silently accosted by the sight of Zenia, a woman they believed dead, verified by their attendance at her funeral. The novel follows each woman’s journey between the present Zenia sighting and their childhoods up to the first time she appeared in their lives and the havoc she created.
At 564 pages, this felt particularly long. Atwood had the space and pace to deal not only with the three protagonists’ recent histories but the backbones developed in childhoods, roughly speaking, damaged or moulded by difficult mothers.
Having now read a few of Atwood’s non-dystopian/sci-fi tomes, I’m beginning to recognise a troubling mother theme to the point that for a while I couldn’t distinguish between Joan’s mother in Lady Oracle and the main characters’ plights through the Robber Bride.
Zenia, the villainess of the piece, does a worthy role of tying together three otherwise fairly bog standard ‘hurt woman’ narratives. As the antagonist, she’s fascinating – for me, never more so than in Tony’s university based narrative as Zenia’s tentacles contract and spread in the claustrophobia of dorm life. She’s sociopathic, callous and her worst crime – or hopelessness for redemption – is the fact that she is not a woman’s woman.