"The word is the making of the world." - Wallace Stevens

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood

In this very complex story, you meet three very different women from Toronto, Canada: Tony, Charis, and Roz. You learn about their pasts and what makes them tick. What they have in common, what binds them, is being manipulated and betrayed by the evil witch of the story, Zenia, The Robber Bride.

The story's title is a reference to the fairy tale, The Robber Bridegroom. The characters themselves are meant to mirror fairy tale characters. Tony is Rapunzel, Charis is Sleeping Beauty, and Roz is Cinderella. Zenia is the wandering orphan, the dangerous rootless wanderer, the prince-less one. The references make perfect sense as you get to know the characters.

Zenia is an enigma. Her past is explained many times, by Zenia herself to the other women. But what parts of her self proclaimed history are fact and which are fiction? Zenia invents herself again and again in different ways for the other characters of the story, but you never know for sure who or what she really is except a disturbed and intriguing personality. At some point in their lives, Zenia has burned each of the main characters; seducing husbands/significant others, lying, betraying, causing general chaos against the other women for her own mysterious reasons. Also at some point, each character dreams of Zenia. Or in Charis's case, has a vision of her. "..Charis's astral body falls to its knees, raising imploring hands to the astral body of Zenia, which burns red, a red crown of flames like spiky leaves or old fashioned pen nibs flaring around her head, with emptiness at the centre of each flame", page 221. Tony, Charis, and Roz end up both admiring, fearing, and despising Zenia at different times, seeing themselves in her in spite of it.

I'm not so sure what a male reader might get out of this story. I loved it myself and identified with different bits of each character. But I have a feeling this kind of feminism might only be able to be understood by women.

"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", page 509.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken

At last! I finally ordered this the end of last month and finished it while flying to and from Ohio early this month. I enjoyed it, but I was disappointed that Dido Twite wasn't a character in this story. Oh well, Bonnie and Sylvia had some pretty interesting adventures.

The two cousins (one a sweet but high strung personality and one a gentle, timid orphan) are left at Willoughby Chase while Bonnie's parents take a sea voyage for her mother's health. Sylvia leaves her Aunt Jane behind in London to move to the Chase. Even if this book was written for children ages 9-12, anyone any age can enjoy Miss Aiken's writing. She puts her characters in situations that reveal their true colors and does a great job of developing them, even characters like Bonnie's father, who isn't in the story much. You understand he's a kind, loving father but distracted enough with his wife's illness that his judgement is a little off when he asks a distant relation he doesn't know to come and watch the Chase and the children. Miss Slighcarp plots to take over the estate completely. She and her gang of bullies are the real wolves featured in this story, although there are real four legged ones running around the place too and the girls and their friends have some narrow escapes. This is a very enjoyable story with heroes, villians, plots, escapes, cruel situations, and happy endings. The next book in the series is Black Hearts in Battersea, where I believe Dido makes her appearance. Can't wait to get to it!