Zenia: Aphid of the Soul


I’m a “play by the rules” kind of guy. Always have been. I was raised that way. I think most people are, and it’s a good thing, too, as I think that having a convincing majority of us willing to abide by the rules of society provides a necessary kind of “herd immunity” for civilization to work. Sure there are outliers, but as long as their numbers are few, civilization can tolerably survive. That’s for most of us. Some of the more unfortunate among the rule-followers, however, have a non rule-follower that is part of their lives, wreaking the havoc that “their kind” predictably cause. Zenia, the infuriating villainess of Margaret Atwood’s “The Robber Bride” doesn’t follow the rules…


Do you know what an aphid is? If you’re into gardening or botany you certainly do. Aphids (pictured above) are sap-sucking pests that cause more damage to domestic plants than any other species. Even if you’re familiar with them, you may not have ever seen a picture of them. Most are hard to see with the naked eye unless you look very close. I remember (long ago) whlen I was young, I learned not to harm ladybugs. I didn’t know why then, but it is because they dine on aphids. The three main female characters in “The Robber Bride” could have used a friendly ladybug in their lives since, in my favorite quotation from the story, Atwood describes her character as “Zenia, aphid of the soul.” I loved that.


I don’t remember exactly how this book found its way onto my reading list. I do know that – after reading Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, last year – I definitely wanted “some more.” (Yes, I’m picturing Oliver Twist meekly holding out his porridge bowl now – as you should be!) 🙂

The Robber Bride follows the lives of three women: friends Charis, Tony, and Roz. The lives of all three have been scarred by an association with Zenia, a mysterious woman for whom it’s difficult to know which of her many accounts of herself are true – if indeed ANY are. One of Zenia’s apparent hobbies is “stealing” the men of other women, even her “friends.” Her interest in these men is fleeting however, and it seems her real reason for stealing them might be “just because she can.” It’s a way to show her ’dominance’ I think. It reminded me a little of that old Dolly Parton(!) song, Jolene:

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Are you old enough to remember that one? (Oops! My research just turned up the fact that Miley Cyrus did a cover version of the song more recently, so maybe “everyone” remembers it!)

Anyway, this novel was a great exploration of how good people (the rule-followers) struggle to deal with bad people (the rule-ignorers). After a dramatic beginning, where the three friends are eating lunch at the trendy “Toxique” restaurant only to have Zenia “return from the dead” and re-enter their lives, I was off and running and thoroughly enjoyed the book, even though I expect most readers of this book are women (indeed, one blogger mentioned that “you’d be hard-pressed to find a male fan” of Atwood’s work). I’ll happily count myself among that minority!

What have you read by Atwood? I’ve read the aforementioned The Handmaid’s Tale and a short story Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother, which I loved and mentioned previously on my blog here. Any recommendations on what I might read next? As always, I’m willing to be guided…

(below: gratuitous insertion of an illustration from Dickens’ Oliver Twist – “please sir, I want some more.”)



  1. nzumel said,

    April 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    The Robber Bride was fun. I used to have a recording (on cassette tape!!) of Ms. Atwood reading an excerpt of the book at San Francisco’s City Arts and Lectures series. She has a great comic delivery.

    Alias Grace is my favorite Atwood novel.


    • Jay said,

      April 9, 2013 at 7:11 am

      Hi Nina,

      Ah, cassette tapes. I still have a few boxes stuffed away in a spare bedroom’s closet. None of them contain a treasure like that,though.

      Thanks for the recommendation on Alias Grace. I’ll put that on my list.



  2. Dale said,

    April 8, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I haven’t read any of her work, but am willing to try. I read about her hob-knobbing with Salman Rushdie in his memoir. It was always with a lot of other authors – it didn’t seem like they were real close. Is she from Canada?


    • Jay said,

      April 9, 2013 at 7:13 am

      Hi Dale,
      Yes, I think she’s Toronto-based. She was in the news a few years back for being a vocal opponent of cutbacks it the city’s libraries, which made me like her immediately. 🙂


  3. April 9, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I love Margaret Atwood – I’ve read The Blind Assassin, Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake but The Handmaid’s Tale is my favorite. The Robber Bride is on my Nook – I’ll start it soon.

    Have you heard of Ruth Ozeki? A Tale for the Time Being is one of the best books I’ve ever read.


    • Jay said,

      April 9, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Hi Jeri,
      Thanks for the comment and the suggestions. Atwood is one of my new faborites. I hadn’t heard of Ozeki before today. I’ll have to add that book to the list. Looks like its literally hot off the presses.


  4. JaneGS said,

    April 16, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I’ve never read Margaret Atwood, but I do have Alias Grace and occasionally toy with the idea of actually reading it. Now that I’ve encountered the phrase, “Zenia, aphid of the soul,” I know I should read Atwood.

    Great review, btw. Loved the OT illustration 🙂


  5. April 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    I just saw Margaret Atwood speak today- she was fantastic!


  6. September 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Aphid of the soul…. a pretty cool descriptor. I’m going to have to check out more of Atwood’s stuff, it looks like.


    • Jay said,

      September 25, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      I hope you do. I know I’m glad I did. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!



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