I liked this, although not unequivocally so as I have many other Margaret Atwood novels.
The novel is, of course, exceptionally well written, and interesting. But aspects of it grated.
I found particularly grating the way the male characters seemed to lack agency, and initially tried to forgive / excuse this with the idea that MA must be archly mimicking male authors’ portrayal of women in novels without agency. But then, my astute partner pointed out that it’s partially because the men don’t matter in this story. And the reason for their lack of agency is, somewhat, fleshed out at the end.
All of the characters seemed to be written as archetypes, rather than as fully realised people. Oddly, I found the most outlandish character (aside from Zenia herself) – being Charis – the most believable. I found neither Tony nor Roz particularly compelling. However, I appreciate how they all work within the context of the novel and what it is about, rather than what happens in it.
So, what is it about?
I think, like a lot of M Atwood’s works, it is about relationships between women and the way women mistreat themselves and others. It does not matter, in the least, what the truth is about what happened and, usefully, it does not matter where the holes are in the story because it’s about perception of self and of others. The story read from each woman’s perspective, flawed as it was (and each was very flawed).
This repetition of perspective was a little tiresome (I felt the same way about the repeat stories in Lionel Shriver’s The Post Birthday World) but when I finished the novel, I understood why and how well this affectation worked.
Also, we are only ever told about Zenia’s power over men, rather than having it demonstrated through her actions. Rather, it is the flaws of the three women narrators (story narrated through them, rather than by them as first person) that allow Zenia her power, and this is the point of the novel. A point well made, once the reader finishes the book. But I was so exasperated as I read it, I almost stopped reading it, which, for me and MA is a surprising thing indeed.
I’d certainly recommend it. It’s excellently written and definitely thought-provoking, anyway. Just can’t quite say I enjoyed it.