THE ROBBER BRIDE - rolling book discussion - July '09 onwards...
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For those of you who like discussion questions, here's some from her US publisher.:
Topics for Group Discussion:
Note: some of these questions relate to material on the publisher's website. See link below.
1. In The Robber Bride Tony says that people like Zenia don't get into your life unless you invite them in. What devices does Zenia use to first gain entry into the lives of Tony, Charis, and Roz? How does she alter her techniques to attract and control men?
2. Is there one character you identify with more than others? Why?
3. On the surface, Tony, Charis, and Roz are not a bit alike yet similarities exist. For example, during their childhoods they each developed what could be called "dual" identities. How do the psychological devices they developed as children help or hinder them? In what ways do their own children differ from them?
4. While seeming all powerful, the constantly changing Zenia lacks a center of her own. Is it possible for women to achieve the same kinds of power that men do in today's society, or do they have to break rules and operate as outlaws? Discuss Charis's grandmother. Do women have a kind of power that is different from male power?
5. Magic can mean two things: sleight of hand played by stage magicians, and true "magic," or supernatural ability. What role does each kind of "magic" play in the novel, if any?
6. The name of the restaurant where Zenia reappears is called The Toxique. What role does naming--of persons and places--play in this novel?
7. War provides a subtext, and even possibly a framework, for this novel. The male characters are not the only ones affected by it. How are the others affected? How is Zenia affected? Which wars are mentioned?
8. Read the poem "The Robber Bridegroom," reversing gender as you read. What does this poem, taken together with the poem "She," tell us about the nature of evil?
9. Discuss the poem "The Loneliness of the Military Historian". What does it tell us about differences between the way men and women traditionally deal with violence? Does Atwood make a value judgment?
10. The American writer Lewis Hyde has asked, "Why is the Trickster the Messenger of the Gods?" Is Zenia a trickster? Is she also a messenger of the gods, and how?
11. Is there a difference between the lies others tell and Zenia's lies? Are there "good" lies and "bad" lies? Do the hearers play a role in the construction of these lies?
12. Think of female villains from literature and film. What do they seem to have in common? Is female villainy different from the male variety?
13. William Blake said of Milton's Paradise Lost that Milton often seemed to be of the devil's part without knowing it. Does Atwood have a sneaking sympathy for Zenia? Do you?
There are some additional, intriguing resources HERE on the publisher's website. There is the original Grimm's fairy tale: "The Robber Bridegroom", a review, and an address Margaret Atwood made to the American Booksellers Association regarding the book.
Perhaps we can post our overall responses to the book and then address whatever particular points we would like to. If we have any questions for others, put them out there.
Certainly, I would think you could post here as the thread is up -- you'll give us all inspiration.
Thanks for posting the questions Lois!
2. Is there one character you identify with more than others? Why?
When I started reading Charis's story, my first reaction was that I was going have to endure her--I'm soooo not into new agey airy fairy stuff (my yoga is all about fitness and not about my chakras). But I quickly was drawn to her, and found her the most interesting character. Right now I can relate to feeling very sensitive and easily bruised by the cruel real world, and I'm definitely a pacifist at heart. I really liked how she sought gentle and positive emotions. And I thought it was way cool how she could see people's coloured auras. I'd like to have that gift (wouldn't that make life easier? "Whoa, ugly brown-grey oozing off him, let's go the other direction".) However, I also agree with Roz when she describes Charis as "an endearing nincompoop". Charis is way more gullible than I am--she's so trusting of people, whereas I'm a skeptic and an analyst.
The other character I related to quite a bit was Tony, because I can relate to her academic passion.
I think most writers have a fondness for all their characters on some level. In this novel, I think this shows in how Roz, Tony and Charis are drawn to Zenia, and how they WANT to believe in her.
But do I like Zenia? No way. For one thing, she's not real. I never see her motivation, so I can't sympathize. And I really dislike liars. But she's interesting!
>10 Nickelini: I actually thought I identified with all three. As each was introduced, I switched allegiances, so to speak.
>11 Nickelini: Zenia is powerful and certainly that can be attractive in its own way. She's aggressive and goes after (and then takes) what she wants. And she seduces the other women by telling stories that not only feed into their vulnerabilities but also allegedly exposes her own (lies!) (actually this is a bit of question #1 also)
The plot kept me interested as we figure out what happened to Zenia.
This was a re-read and it reminded me how I always wait for the latest Atwood book to be published.
My questions echoes one of the reading group questions above. Are the three women complicit in some way in their own victimization? And what, if anything, could they have done to prevent any of what they have suffered. And would being invulnerable to Zenia's tricks (or lack of a better word at the moment) make them less who they are or less caring as human beings...
Would they have gone to the funeral if they lawyer hadn't called them and made the request on Zenia's behalf?
As far as the question about victimization- not really at first- they were fascinated with Zenia and I think that no one really believes that a " friend" would treat them so badly-The rest I have to think about-
But what struck me this time through was the mythic dimension of the tale. Zenia is the dark side of Tony, Charis, and Roz -- what Diane Wolkstein calls the witchy, bitchy, miserable, woman -- Ereshkigal, Inanna's dark sister, whom Inanna must descend into the underworld to meet in order to come to the full realization of herself.
It's one of the oldest recorded myths in history -- Inanna -- "The Descent of Inanna": http://www-etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr141.htm
But Atwood's reinterpretation is thoroughly modern, and the trio of heroines also slyly resemble the three fairies in Disney's Sleeping Beauty as well as The Witches of Eastwick (originally published in 1984).