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After being told off nicely but vociferously :) by jfp for putting Margaret Atwood in the same sentance as Victoria Hislop I decided it was really time to break my self-imposed embargo on Margaret Atwood and read another of her books.

 

From the book blurb

"Zenia is beautiful, smart and greedy, by turns manipulative and vulnerable, needy and ruthless; a man's dream and a woman's nightmare. She is also dead. Just to make sure Tony, Roz and Charis are there for the funeral. But five years on, as the three women share an indulgent, sisterly lunch, the unthinkable happens; 'with waves of ill will flowing out of her like cosmic radiation', Zenia is back. "

 

I galloped through the first half of the book, loving it, loving her writing then slowed right down and found the second half a slightly plodding read. I think it's for two reasons, firstly and not the most important is that Atwood seems to me to be in love with her own voice and frankly for my taste the book is too long, with too many finely crafted descriptive passages etc. The second is that I stopped believing in the story once it got to Roz. I really found it impossible to believe that an intelligent woman like that, who knew what damage Zenia could do, who knew the women Zenia had done it to, who knew how untruthful Zenia was could let Zenia into her life like that, let alone give her a job.

 

There were too many co-incidences such as Zenia just happening to walk into Toxique when the three friends were having lunch, too many similarities in the ways Tony, Roz and Charis were brought up, and the last scene between Roz and Zenia simply seemed unbelievable - why one earth would Roz accept Zenia's word like that?

 

I woud love to know what really happened to Zenia though.

 

All in all a slightly disappointing read.

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Viccie

Despite your slight disappointment, I hope you still feel able to disconnect Margaret Atwood from Victoria Hislop!

 

I have read a few of her books and this is probably my least favourite, so if you ever fancy pursuing any others, I recommend: The Blind Assassin, Moral Disorder (a more recent one) and Alias Grace

 

I *really* enjoyed Negotiating with the Dead which is about her experience of being a writer (and also a reader!). It started off as a lecture series given in the UK and has been (only slightly, I believe) expanded into this book.

 

Zebra

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No, don't worry I'm not comparing her to Victoria Hislop! (I originally put them together in the 'Authors you won't read' thread - VH because The Island contained some of the clunkiest prose I've had the misfortune to come across and MA due to being so disturbed by Cat's Eye that I couldn't face her books again.)

 

We've got a copy of The Blind Asassin here so it'll be moved to the TBR bookcase.

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...firstly and not the most important is that Atwood seems to me to be in love with her own voice...
have you actually heard her voice. A more monotone and disinterested voice I cannot bear to think about. I listened to a tape once of her reading her own poetry - not enjoyable at all.

 

Having said that, I love Margaret Atwood's work in almost all its forms. I appreciate what your say Viccie about this book, but it didn't detract from my own enjoyment of it.

 

I woud love to know what really happened to Zenia though.
Dosen't this just say it all. Any book that can leave a reader wondering about the characters therein has to have touched that reader.

 

I hope by now you have actually managed to read some of her other work. Personally I too love Alias Grace. A patchwork of memories and records melded into an fascinating story. And The Handmaid's Tale, which set me on a Margaret Atwood path that I've never regretted.

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This is one of my very favourite contemporary novels, and I think it's an extraordinary achievement.

 

Its major strength surely lies in the highly skilful interlocking of themes and narrative technique and structure. The lives of three different women, Toni, Charis and Roz, have been ransacked in various distinctively unsavoury ways by the baleful influence of the mysterious Zenia. The reader is given ample opportunity to see things from the points of view of three characters with highly contrasted personalities and attitudes to life in general, and as a result is gradually led to realise that, while all three women are in many ways likeable, it is none the less fair to say that perhaps none of them is one hundred per-cent trustworthy and reliable...

 

Numerous articles and reviews have set out to establish what "really" happens in this novel, and who, if anyone, is "really" responsible for what happens in the end. This, surely, misses the point, which is that subjective interpretations of "reality" inevitably clash with and contradict one another. And anyway, after all, perhaps Zenia, like the weird sisters in Macbeth, doesn't "really" exist as any more than a personification (or metaphor) of the neuroses, uncertainties and vulnerabilities of the other characters?

 

Margaret Atwood heaps up shovelfuls of images corresponding to the chaos and fragility of our inner lives, and alludes very deftly to the fact that so much of what we do and how we behave corresponds to largely anarchic impulses, rather than to rational, planned behaviour.

 

I put this right up among the best of Atwood's novels. Although it wasn't even shortlisted - five of her others have been, including The Blind Assassin (which went on to win the prize, in 2000) - this, for me, is one, along with The Handmaid's Tale, that really deserved the Booker.

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Just finished this the other day & while I thought it was interesting, I was frustrated at how stupid the women were & how obvious it was that Zenia was a lying b*tch! Charis/Karen was really irritating & I didn't buy a clever woman like Roz being conned by Zenia, especially not after Tony's warning. I was shouting stuff at them by this point, mainly to get a bloody freaking clue!

And how do you lot pronounce Charis? With a hard C like Karen (or charisma) or with a ch sound, like charity? In any case, that character annoyed me the most, mainly for the fact that she hadn't got very far academically & was into all the random spiritual mumbo-jumbo.

I definitely got the vibe that it was possible that Zenia faked her own death & buggered off to ruin someone else's life/steal another person's partner, but do hope she didn't.

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I was frustrated at how stupid the women were & how obvious it was that Zenia was a lying b*tch!
I think the fact remains that there really are people who are just so manipulative, and so immoral, and so able to dress it all up in a combination of charm and lies that even the most perceptive people get taken in. I find Zenia totally credible.
And how do you lot pronounce Charis? With a hard C like Karen (or charisma) [...] ?
Yes; Atwood herself specifies this in the acknowledgements.

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I figured it might be that pronunciation, as it makes it not all that different to her original name & I felt charisma was something Charis did not possess in any shape or form! I found it interesting that her daughter also chose to change her name & that she was making a marked effort to be nothing like her mother.

Zenia was an incredible con-woman, I'll give her that, and I'm sure everyone's met or heard of a variation of someone like that in their life or someone else's.

I found this book quite a disturbing read, as I did Oryx & Crake, but in a totally different way to the latter.

The Blind Assassin looks like a good read & I'm sure I saw Cat's Eye on the shelves of the bookcase at some point. The Handmaid's Tale is probably my favourite so far though.

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The Blind Assasin is one of my favourite books so when I saw this in a charity shop for £1 I bought it.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Zenia is indeed a character that many of us will have come across in our lives albeit in a somewhat diluted form. I think the whole think of Zenia is that she can manipulate each of the women but only because they allow her too. She plays to the part of each of them they consider the best. They all consider themselves slightly superior to the others and capable of handling Zenia. It is only when they have been stripped bare by their experiences that they are able to move on and Zenia's death is symbolic of this.

 

 

I would heartily recommend this to anyone and I think The Handmaid's Tale will be amongst my next purchases. I have The Penelopiad to take on holiday.

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I just finished this this week, I had given up on it before but one of my friends recommended it to me so I picked it up and gave it a go.

I was also frustrated by the women's ability to let Zenia into her life, and couldn't at first accept that Roz had, but then when I saw how she allowed her husband to behave it seemed more reasonable.

Yes it had lots of coincidences, and the women had all been damaged by their mothers but it was still a good read, although not a favourite Atwood. I have Surfacing on my tbr pile for my next Atwood read.

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I am about two thirds of the way through this book and thought that I would make a quick post as I go. I have not read any of the previous posts but will do so when I finish. This is the fourth book I have read by this author and once again am finding it to be fascinating reading. All of her books have been very different so far and this one is proving to be no exception.

 

The book hangs around one central character, that of a woman called Zenia. The story is told by three other women and their seperate and shared experiences of this woman over a number of years. As the book unfolds we learn more and more about each woman, their lives and the ways in which their lives have been affected by Zenia. We also begin to understand what they mean to one another because of these experiences.

 

At times I am finding this book to be disturbing reading. I am now reading the account of Charis, one of the three friends, and am finding this story to be especially upseting. The way that parts of her childhood are described and the way in which the child Charis, or Karen as she was then, dealt with certain incidents I have found to be particularly harrowing. I feel for the two women and assume that I will also do so for the third when her story is told.

 

Although difficult reading at times I have found myself to be hooked from page one. It is a very grown up book dealing with real issues and real feelings if that makes sense. I am sorry if that all sounds a bit dramatic but I can think of no other way to describe the impact of this book.

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I finished this book yesterday and have now read all the previous comments. I have found the comments themselves very interesting reading as many readers have seen the relationships between the three women and Zenia in such different ways.

 

I for one have known a few manipulative women in my life, none quite like Zenia of course, and know how they have been able both to make me feel and in some cases to act. I know how insecure such people can make me feel and how I can act in ways that I would not normally do. I also know that in some cases I have been taken in repeatedly. Although Zenia and her effect on the other three women's lives may well have been exagerated I found their behaviour perfectly believable and showed a real understanding of the female psyche by Atwood.

 

Not many people are completely the people the may appear to be or even live the lives that they may appear to live. There are very few people who can be described as "what you see is what you get", we all have hidden depths, past experiences which have helped to mould us and insecurities in our lives that we hide from others. I felt that Margaret Atwood showed a real understanding of this in this book and dealt with it amazingly well.

 

One reader, I cannot remember which I am afraid, thought the book too long and didn't like the amount of descriptive passages it contained. This is the fourth Atwood book I have read, The Blind Assassin being my favourite, and I really enjoy her way of writing. When I start an Atwood book I am now prepared for a less than easy read and will continue to read despite this.

 

All in all I would say that I found this to be a really worth while read. I have no more Atwood books on my TBR at the moment having already read The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace as well as this one so if anyone can suggest another of her books I would appreciate it. I have been told that one or two of her books are rather disturbing so have been put off just choosing at random.

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Hi Cp. I am totally hooked on Atwood's trilogy 'Oryx and Crake', 'The Year of the Flood' and 'MaddAddam'. Difficult and challenging reads in more ways than one. And with each passing real life year, her imagined future creeps eerily closer to present realities. As expected, her characters are incredibly deep and their relationships complicated.

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Another Atwood fan here.  I think you may be a little young to appreciate fully the impact of her novel The Edible Woman as it was written in and about the 60s, but I absolutely love it.  In fact I have read it more than once.  For me it speaks loud and clear about the role of women at that time.  The 60s was a time when women were becoming more emancipated in many ways and for me this novel speaks for all those independently minded women of that time.  Perhaps being almost the same as Atwood I saw her then as someone speaking up for how I felt at that time.  It is not a long book but it is full of depth and meaning.  

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There were too many co-incidences such as Zenia just happening to walk into Toxique when the three friends were having lunch, too many similarities in the ways Tony, Roz and Charis were brought up, and the last scene between Roz and Zenia simply seemed unbelievable - why one earth would Roz accept Zenia's word like that?

.

Just started reading this based on the fascinating discussion here. I am at the point where all three women's stories have been told up to the discovery that Zenia is still alive. Thus far it is as compelling and fascinating as I'd hoped. And the writing is superb!

I think these coincidences you speak of, Viccie, were highly plausible. Toxique is exactly the kind of place Zenia would go, and Roz exactly the kind of mother who would 'slum' there to get insight into her son's life. And the overbearing, harsh, and cold mothering the 3 women all experienced was, I'd guess, exactly the kind of programming necessary to be susceptible to a woman like Zenia.

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And how do you lot pronounce Charis? With a hard C like Karen (or charisma) or with a ch sound, like charity? In any case, that character annoyed me the most, mainly for the fact that she hadn't got very far academically & was into all the random spiritual mumbo-jumbo.

.

One of the things which really struck me as I read this is how inevitable it was that these women would become the people they were. Charis is not someone I relate to very well, and I tend to be irritated by that New Age stuff, but when you are seeing auras from birth, and are 'not sure where her body ended and the world began' , then I think you are basically destined to gravitate towards some pretty airy, fairy belief systems.

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Just finished this outstanding book, and my faith in Margaret Atwood, somewhat diminished by Bodily Harm, has been restored! The character development of these 3 women was superb, and extremely well rounded. I really came to love Tony, Charis, and Roz, warts, quirks, neuroses and all. Not only did it keep me thinking and guessing and highly intrigued right up to the end, but the characters were so well delineated that it was entirely plausible, a real life drama that in lesser hands would have been sketchy, corny, and melodramatic.

And then there is Zenia, as intriguing as she is disturbing. A living, devouring mystery and conundrum, sketched with a line here, a crosshatch there, some shadings and brushstrokes, yet breathing like a monster in the attic through every line of the novel. What a creation! And what a superb job of making her so real and complex with so few actual appearances.

It was somewhat disappointing that all the men in the novel, at least all of the heterosexual ones, were asses, or weak willed, or perverts or womanizers, or all of the above. But that didn't actually detract from my pleasure in reading this. But it does knock it down to 4.5 stars.

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Have been absent from BG for a while again I am afraid so have only just picked up the messages from Ting and BB. I have been put off the trilogy Oryx and Crake by the comments of others but may well give it a try after your comments Ting. Alhough I have heard of The Edible Woman BB you are the first person I have come across who has actually read it. Although I was only born in the early 60s so do not remember much about them I still think that I will give the book a go as it does sound interesting.

 

As far as The Robber Bride goes Dan I think that I would have to agree with pretty much all that you have said. I, like you, came to love all three women warts and all and really felt for them at the hands of Zenia. I cannot say that I am like or even know anyone like any of the three women but some of their 'hang-ups' I can understand and even identify with. I think the fact that many of the worries or neuroses that the women have are those of many women is what made the book so compelling for me. I suspect that we all have a Zenia in our lives and by that I do not mean an exact copy but someone who has an ability to charm us and then use us. We can all be taken in by stronger characters than our own and whether it is the glamour, the personality or maybe just that they are able to bring out our caring side such people can have an ability to control us. Hopefully with less damaging results than Zenia!

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On 3/5/2008 at 10:55, Viccie said:

I galloped through the first half of the book, loving it, loving her writing then slowed right down and found the second half a slightly plodding read.

It was the same for me, as usual I found Atwood's command of language captivating and I engaged immediately with the characters but as the story wore on I became less enthralled and more just reading to get to the end. 

 

I found the ending a bit of a let down, as if Atwood had run out of ideas for her characters and the major event at the end was just an easy way to finish it all. What began as intriguing just slowly became mediocre. Though of course I wish I could write mediocre a tenth as well as Atwood can :D 

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