The Robber Bride is a Margaret Atwood novel first published by McClelland and Stewart in 1993. Set in present-day Toronto, Ontario, the novel begins with three women (Roz, Charis, and Tony) who meet once a month in a restaurant to share a meal.
During their most recent outing, they see Zenia, a long-dead college classmate who had stolen, one by one, their respective beaux. The novel alternates between the present and flashbacks featuring the points of view of Tony, Charis, and Roz, respectively. Zenia has given each woman a different version of her biography, tailor-made to insinuate herself into their lives. No one version of Zenia is the truth, and the reader knows no more than the characters.
Their betrayals by Zenia are what initially bring the three together as friends and bind their lives together irrevocably; their monthly luncheons began after her funeral. The novel, like other works by Atwood, deals with power struggles between men and women; it is also a meditation on the nature of friendship, power, and trust between women. Zenia's character can be read as either the ultimate self-empowered woman, a traitor who abuses sisterhood, or simply a self-interested mercenary who cunningly uses the "war between the sexes" to further her own interests. One reading posits Zenia as a kind of guardian angel to the women, saving them from unworthy men.
Atwood claims that of all the characters she has written, she identifies most "with Zenia. She is the professional liar, and what else do fiction writers do but create lies that other people will believe?"
In the novel's present, Roz, Charis, and Tony finally each individually confront Zenia in a Toronto hotel room, where she tells each of them that the men they'd been with got what they deserved, and gives various versions of her earlier staged death, each as implausible as the accounts of her life. One of the four women never leaves that hotel alive. The novel itself leaves the reader questioning who was (or were) the victim(s) of life.
The three chapters built around the women are bookended by four shorter chapters ("Onset," "The Toxique," "The Toxique," and "Outcome," with historian Tony's voice guiding "Onset" and "Outcome," and all three voices present in the two Toxique chapters), bringing the total to seven, and giving the novel a mirrorlike, palindromic structure. Also, the three women have four children between them, and this younger generation feels the mechanisms of Zenia as well.
The adaptation altered the plotline, choosing not to show Roz, Tony and Charis' childhood flashbacks and adding several new characters. As well, Augusta is taken by Zenia and the Toxique has been changed to Absinthe.