The Robber Bride

by Margaret Atwood

Hardcover, 1993

Call number



Nan A. Talese (1993), Edition: 1st, 466 pages


Fiction. Literature. Humor (Fiction.) HTML: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 nem… (more)

Media reviews

Margaret Atwood has always possessed a tribal bent: in both her fiction and her nonfiction she has described and transcribed the ceremonies and experience of being a woman, or a Canadian, or a writer -- or all three. And as with so many practitioners of identity politics, literary or otherwise,
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while one side of her banner defiantly exclaims "We Are!" the other side, equally defiant, admonishes "Don't Lump Us." In "The Robber Bride," Ms. Atwood has gathered (not lumped) four very different women characters.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member writestuff
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member samfsmith
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”
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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.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Maybe that's what West found so irresistible about Zenia, Tony used to think: that she was raw, that she was raw sex, whereas Tony herself was only the cooked variety. Parboiled to get the dangerous wildness out, the strong fresh-blood flavors. Zenia was gin at midnight, Tony was eggs for
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breakfast, and in eggcups at that. It's not the category Tony would have preferred.

Tony, Charis and Roz have all fallen prey to Zenia, or rather their husbands and boyfriends have been stolen away along with other things they held dear, like trust and security and chickens. Zenia, a talented grifter, knows how to get each woman to trust her, until she's taken what she wants and disappears. First is the diminutive, studious Tony, an orphan studying the history of war and living in a residence hall where she does not mix comfortably with the boisterous girls enjoying college life. Then she meets West, a music student with whom she forms a close friendship only to discover that he's living with the glamourous Zenia. Charis has learned how to disappear into herself, a necessary skill to surviving her childhood, first with a mother with a mental illness and then with relatives who are willing to do their duty by her. She finds security for herself though, by creating a home in a drafty little house on an island a short ferry ride from Toronto. With the addition of Billy, an American avoiding the Vietnam War and a flock of chickens, she forges a small family for herself and willingly sets out to shelter and heal Zenia, who tells her she's dying of cancer. And then there's Roz, big-boned and loud, who has a family she loves and a burgeoning business empire, for whom Zenia poses as a talented war correspondent looking to start a career in a gentler place.

Often in a book with a shifting point of view, I find myself preferring certain characters and wishing they had more time and others less, or I find it hard to fully involve myself in the story, because the emotional emphasis keeps shifting. Margaret Atwood's so good at what she does, however, that I found myself equally invested in each of these three very different women. While Zenia, a woman willing to betray other women to get what she wants, is the center of the book, the real story is about the friendship between Tony, Roz and Charis, who would not have become close had they not all been deceived by Zenia. Each is vulnerable because they are open to friendship and it is ultimately that openness that saves and heals them.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
So what's your story, Zenia? Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy? Jezebel, martyr, Genet figure, Zen (huh, yeah, prolly, eh?) teacher?

None of the characters in this book are real. Not that that has to be the point, but I feel like they're trying to be - striving after realness - and Atwood is ruining it
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not by failing to deliver meaning and symbolic structure (become your foe in order to destroy her, but don't lose your way back - and when you get back, respect the bitch for the way she fought the fight), nor even for its misoandry (all men suck except those nice polite young gays - so '90s), but just because the details are all tonedeaf and wrong. Maybe because she's old? But whether it's the '50s prep "sophisticatiness" in the humour on display in the names Tony's students give her lectures ("Tender Buttons?" "Piss Party" would be closer, albeit still far) or Larry and Boyce's little relationship (EVERY GAY KNOWS EVERY OTHER GAY AND DOES HIM), or the fucking Toxique (only as satire, Mags, and you're not convincing me), the 1993 details are as wrong as the 70 and 83 are right, and drive you (me) to distraction and rage. Oddly, Roz's teen daughters are spot on. I guess Margaret has grandkids?
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LibraryThing member vhoeschler
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood is going to be a book that I long remember. I ran the gamut of emotions while reading it. At times I was frustrated and angry, other times I was laughing, some parts of the book touched me deeply while others cause me to rant and rave. The story is how three
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women are exploited and damaged by a fourth. She uses them, steals their men, takes their money, then gets bored and moves on. Occasionally she also uses blackmail to get what she wants.

I actually didn’t relate to any of the women, they mostly angered me with how they tended to put their men on a pedestal and the men totally peeved me with their wishy-washy ways and how they allowed their women to clean up their messes. Unfortunately these women were no match for this master predator as all three of them came from damaged backgrounds. She was an expert at digging out her victims weak spots and manipulating it to her advantage. And yet, the author gave a sense of playfulness to the story with her wit and insight into male/female relationships.

The Robber Bride has a dark fairy tale quality, with this truly evil she-creature picking apart each woman’s life, but in actuality, the men were such spineless philanderers and shameless liars that these women would be better off without them. Perhaps Atwood, with tongue-in-cheek, was showing that this villainous woman was doing them a favour.
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LibraryThing member BraveNewBks
Don't want to write too much here in advance of our book club discussion next week, but I'm pretty impressed by what Margaret Atwood did with the story. Also, she is a genius with words. Because of that, I think she can get away with doing things in fiction that would, in the hands of another
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author, ring hideously false or contrived. This is a bizarre story in many ways, almost verging on magical realism, but I think she makes it work.

Also, I got chills from this passage:

“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it's all a male fantasy: that you're strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren't catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”

I am a woman with a man inside watching a woman. /shive
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
I found it slow going in the first couple of chapters, but before long I was enthralled by this tale of three very different women who share one thing in common — all three have had their lives and loves upheaved by Zenia.

The story begins by the three women sharing mutual relief when they learn
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of Zenia's death, only to have her rise from the dead and appear before them, ready for battle. Atwood lovingly describes each of the three women, dipping back into their pasts and forward into their present. Each is wounded in some way, and though their bonding over Zenia is the impetus for their friendship, the seed that is planted grows into deep companionship and trust.

Zenia, however, remains ever on the outside, a wanderer, a mystery. She is beautiful, sexy, and in her associations with each of the other women, she becomes something slightly different, a reflection of what they need, what they want her to be. Zenia is shifting, changeable as wind, and someone who can never quite be nailed down. Questions about her are never really answered, and that's how it should be. No force of nature so fierce should ever by fully defined.
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
Margaret Atwood is an expert in telling a story, retelling it, and then challenging everything you think you know. This is an engaging, tantalizing, and dizzying novel about three friends and their toxic connection to a woman who robbed all three of them.
LibraryThing member nymphadoria
wonderful book
LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
Tony, Charis and Roz have a shameful thing in common. They have all been manipulated by the beautiful, charming and utterly rotten sociopath Zenia. An expert on using weakness, she has played the three women, one after the other, for their money, for academic merits and for shelter. But she
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hasn’t stopped there. She has also destroyed their relationships by stealing away their men – and then casually discarding them. All three women have secret scars in their childhoods, and it is precisely through these Zenia has gotten to them.

Helping each other picking up the pieces after hurricane Zenia has formed a strong friendship between Roz, Tony and Charis. Well, the fact that Zenia is very dead and and buried helps too. Or so they think. For suddenly the demon returns, as it seems without a scratch, and the three women need to prepare themselves for a final confrontation. Will they stand their ground, getting the answers they need from Zenia? Or will she manipulate them once more?

I liked and felt for the main characters, with all their flaws and horrors from the past. The stories from Tony’s, Roz’ and especially Charis’ childhoods are truly heartbreaking, and the way their actions resonate with their psychology is believable and strong (if sometimes frustrating). Also, it makes a good contrast to the enigma that is Zenia, where we never get to know what is truth and what is lie.

This is a readable book, and the theme of destructive friendship of the worst kind is well developed. But still, this is my least favourite of the four Atwood books I’ve read. I found the constant telling of the same scenario three times slow going and repetitive (And now ROZ discovers that Zenia is a snarling harpy under a thin coating of pleasantness…) and felt that the book never quite found it’s pace. Also, Atwood’s “War of the sexes” theme annoyed me. I’m fine with almost all men in the book being self-absorbed macho bastards, but dislike how Atwood depicts (and almost excuses) them as a simpler sort, slaves under their urges. Of course they can’t resist a pair of inflated boobs, the hopeless oafs! In a book full of complexity in the portrayal of it's main characters, it's sad that Atwood settles for cardboard cutouts when it comes to the supporting cast.

I like and will definitely read more Atwood. But I’m glad this wasn’t my first experience, and won’t re-read it anytime soon.
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LibraryThing member amaraki
Three women, their lives and their relationships to men and to each other, plus a fourth, the menacing Zenia who plays a key role in their adult lives. There are several narratives going on. First three stories about who these women are starting from their childhood and early adulthood. Then the
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three stories of their relationships with their partners and how Zenia moves in on them. Finally the combined story of their reactions when Zenia suddenly reappears in their lives after having been declared dead. At the end, I thought that despite the pain she caused at the time, the malevolent Zenia actually ended up helping all of them to grow & mature.
While the characters of each of the three women are painstakingly developed through their childhood experiences, who Zenia was and where she came from remains a mystery.
Many times insightful and often witty, it was a pleasure and a fascinating read, though not an easy one.
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LibraryThing member eljabo
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Notesmusings
Reading Robber Bride I sometimes felt that I was eavesdropping on an intimate woman-to-woman talk. Yet the book is just as powerful and relevant for men. Dated in some details, but by no means in essentials, Robber Bride conveyed a real sense of dread at times.

Three midlife women have been bonded,
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for many years, through the common woe dealt to them by Zenia, a stunning beauty who 'stole' and then morally destroyed each of their male partners, and brought material damage to the women themselves. Years after attending her funeral they still feared her memory. Now they now discover that Zenia not only hasn't died, but has recently made contact with the current men in their lives.

Roz is an earthy, practical-minded boss, Tony a cold-fish academic, Charis an intuitive, spiritualist hippie. Half-paralysed by anxiety at Zenia's return, they try to understand what is happening - to those around them, and inside their own heads - and take defensive action. Along the way we learn at length about the psychological damage they each received in their childhoods, and how it has shaped their later experience of Zenia. In fact their backgrounds take up a large part of the text.

The sociopathic aspect of Zenia is pretty clear – someone unencumbered by conscience or empathy, x-raying people to view the skeleton of their deepest drives, but entirely missing the beauty and soft appeal of their rounded personalities. She feeds only off challenge and victory and new kicks: for her a sustained relationship equals boredom.

She is also of course a femme-fatale: in Zenia, the woman who defines herself in terms of the male gaze has sharpened herself into a deadly weapon. You start with a body that is socially defined as lovely; work on it; bring to bear all the tricks of charm; add insight, cunning, self-discipline, composure under pressure. Now supply the rationale, the excuse he needs to get past his conscience (you are vulnerable and need his help, for example), and you have him. Sex opens a mine-shaft to the inner psyche, which she knows how to explore. As sex-goddess Zenia becomes 90% of reality to her men. But this is all seen from a distance, from the perceptions of the three women and the apocryphal comments of Z herself.

Sex is not her only hook, and in the case of her female victims it is always some other longing - Zenia finds out whatever each woman yearns for, and finds a way to embody it. This we get in some detail (we see far more of various imagined Zenias than of the woman herself).

However she gets hold of you, once she has you you are gone. After that, any public hint that she is nasty and exploitative feels threatening to you, because it might displease her and induce her to withdraw from you. Her approval is everything. But the judgments she delivers to men and to women - once she has sucked them dry - are of the greatest brutality, resonating with the worst messages they have internalised from the past. She now walks the corridors of their dreams.

Even once they understand what she is, and hate her, they can't help wanting to identify with, celebrate, even cherish her, thanks to her intense vitality and the passions she has summoned up in them.

The book is similar to Balzac's Cousin Bette and Thackery's Vanity Fair in having an evil female agent who works against a backdrop of male depravity and moral weakness; there are strong hints that this is the real problem to be addressed. The men are never seen from the inside; two of them remain almost entirely blank to us, though they all seem to end up with some kind of self-loathing. One of them, in the final break-up scene with his partner, gives a fine example of the malice that emerges when someone abandons their ideals.

A few reviewers have complained that the book demonises the 'other woman' and non-monogamous women generally. It could be used that way, though it is unlikely to be the author's intention, given her support for female sexual expression in other contexts.

The book warns that high-minded thoughts and finer feelings draw their sap from deep, hidden roots: poison them, and the whole tree sickens.

It is very funny in parts. And there are the references to fairy tales and the supernatural - it really needs a more extended review.
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LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member dablackwood
couldn't get through it - too dense - I just never cared about the characters
LibraryThing member SMU54
Very crappy book by a very great writer.
LibraryThing member grheault
Zenia dies, but she keeps coming back to haunt three betrayed 'friends': Roz, Charis, and the war historian. Set in Toronto, Charis lives on the Toronto Islands, the war historian in some Annex or Cabbagetown house, and Roz, hmm.
LibraryThing member readingrat
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.
LibraryThing member cherien
This isn't my usual sort of book, and it took me a long time to get into it. I enjoyed the strong structure and the insight into the different characters. But I found the choices that the characters made to be difficult to accept. I look for powerful heroes - these women were disapointing to me
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because they were so real, so human.
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LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
Enjoyed reading the novel, but found Zenia too unremittingly evil to be believable, while Charis was just plain annoying!
LibraryThing member ilovecookies
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
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followed to the present.
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LibraryThing member samantha464
This one is up there with Cat's Eye and the Handmaid's Tale as one of my favorite Margaret Atwood books. I sat up all night reading it, then made french toast. Like all her books, it borrows some themes and plot points from other novels, but always spins them out in a new way. I love the way it
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shifts focus between the three (very different) women characters, tied together by pure circumstance.
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LibraryThing member summonedbyfells
I am a great admirer of MA’s writing particularly her clever inventive use of metaphor; her textured similes, the aptness and effortless ease of her tropic grace, a writer of quality rarely compromised by quantity, though for me; sadly, The Robber Bride is just too long for the intrinsic drama of
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the story. The contrast in characterisation between Zenia, - sparse, and her victims: Tony Roz & Charis – abundant, disrupts a sense of balance between protagonists. I would have enjoyed more from Zenia, would have preferred to wonder less about how she thought through her motives, would have liked to have seen more of her through her own mind, which may have provided a bit more substance to her rather limp exit. For me the whole amounts to less than the sum of its parts.
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LibraryThing member Vivl
I found this fascinating and extremely moving, but was not compelled to re-read it immediately, as I was with The Blind Assassin. That's a rather high standard to hold it up to, however, and I certainly believe this book is worth more than 4 stars. Margaret Atwood's intense understanding and
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affection for her characters, even, in the end, the nastiest of them, is inspiring. I wish I could feel such tolerance for the foibles of others!
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Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 1996)
Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Winner — 1994)
Otherwise Award (Shortlist — 1993)
Canadian Authors Association Award (Winner — Fiction — 1994)
Toronto Book Award (Nominee — 1994)
Trillium Book Award (Winner — English — 1994)




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