Une Femme Fatale

In this era of social media and advanced phone technology, it is easy to stay in touch with friends through emails, texting and messengers. Electronic communications make it less demanding on friends and acquaintances to remain in contact but there are clearly limitations.Virtual communications are useful in situations when one wants to avoid face-to-face conversations or when one prefers to maintain a distance so as to keep some degree of solitude and space.

I often feel that friends could be more discerning and selective when sending on messages or circulating information as I find most of these news and videos distressing and rather doubtful  neither inspiring nor useful. These are the people who are keeping me grounded, thus as much as I very much like to exit from the group, I remain in the loop and continue to be fed with pictures and video clips most of which I discard without downloading them largely due to time constraint and when I do click on them, I delete them due to certain elements of repugnance. They serve as a reminder that  I have to be tolerant of each other’s idiosyncrasies as all of us on this earth are so different, each to their own and yet we are not that different in that we are all in need of finding a connection somewhere somehow on this planet.

The Robber Bride is wickedly brilliant.  Margaret Atwood is a prolific writer and you get drawn into the characters even though you know they are fictional. The story is set in  Toronto between 1945 and 1990 . It is  about three women who  share  a common nemesis, Zenia  Arden who used to attend the same university as them and with whom they each share a past friendship. The story begins and ends with Tony and her attempts to reconstruct Zenia, a  femme fatale. Tony, Roz and Charis (formerly Karen) are meeting in the restaurant Toxique for lunch and they have been doing that even since Zenia’s death.  Five years on, during one such lunch outing,  the impossible happens, Zenia appears. Their friend is not dead. It is as if these three women have not been able to let her go despite having attended her funeral that was conducted by her lawyer.

They are all strong and capable women characters : Tony, a historian who was born left-handed but  forced to write using her right and she  can reverse her words and has a keen academic interest about wars and battles. Roz is a successful business woman who is a mother of three, a son and a pair of twins. Charis is into new age  practice and she is mystical and airy. She is damaged as a child and has to bury her angry and bitter self in another life where her name was Karen.

From the narrations, we know the childhoods, relationships  and  point of view of Tony , Roz and Charis while Zenia remains in the shadow of their lives.  Zenia remains elusive and fascinating in a fiendish way as she is a pathological liar and the stories that she tells are far out yet to those she has told they come across as credible. Margaret Atwood writes: 

After Zenia turned up at the Toxique that day, Charis spent about a week wondering what she should do.Or rather she knew what she should do, but she didn’t know how to go about doing it. Also she needed to fortify herself spiritually, because an encounter with Zenia would be no casual thing.

For the historian, Tony, ‘the story  of Zenia is insubstantial, ownerless, a rumour only, drifting from mouth to mouth, and changing as it goes. As with any magician, you saw what she wanted you to see; or else you saw what you yourself wanted to see. She did it with mirrors. The mirror was whoever was watching, but there was nothing behind the two-dimensional image but a thin layer of mercury.

The men characters in the story are pathetic and philanderers. It is cruel that Zenia attacks Roz’s failing marriage and her failing feminist magazine yet indeed there is some wisdom in Zenia’s statements. The irony is when Roz needs some advice about her family life, she turns to her gay personal assistant  managing her business affairs . 

The author writes beautifully. 

‘Every ending is arbitrary, because the end is where you write The end. A period, a dot of punctuation, a point of stasis. A pin-prick in the paper: you could put your eye to it and see through , to the other side, to the beginning of something else. Or, as Tony says to her students, Time is not a solid, like wood, but a fluid, like water or the wind. It doesn’t come neatly cut into even-sized lengths, into decades and centuries. Nevertheless, for our purposes we have to pretend it does. The end of any history is a lie in which we all agree to conspire. ‘

The Robber Bride  may come across a little cliché  if not for the author’s wit, writings and acute observations.  Margaret Atwood is skilful in her plot, structure and portrayal of central characters. It is such a pleasure reading Margaret Atwood’s fictions and how she cleverly  plays with irony. The Robber Bride is a book that I would like to re-read but will not be able to do so at the moment since there are far too many books that I need to devour before the end the year. 

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