On this bright, chilly Sunday morning, I'm feeling rather wiped out. I ran a Book Fair at one of my schools last week, which is always exhausting. I've also had a fairly bad migraine the past two days, and am only now beginning to feel better. So I was going to take a "sick day" from my post today, but thankfully I finished a book for my book club meeting tomorrow that I've not only read before, but one I've written a blog post about! So this is a rerun of Julie's Reading Corner from December 8, 2013:
"I finished reading The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud last week, and it was fabulous! Just a quick recap: Nora Eldridge is an angry woman whose life plan included being an artist and having children (husband and money optional), but who instead grew up to become the dutiful daughter of her now deceased mother and ailing, lonely father. She is also the favourite third-grade teacher in an elementary school in Boston. At age 37, Nora is despairing ever achieving anything resembling her life’s dreams, resigned to her role as “the Woman Upstairs”, unremarkable but reliable. Then the Shahid family enters her life. Mrs. Shahid is a successful artist, and Mr. Shahid is exactly the type of man Nora would fall for, but it is Reza, their eight-year-old son and student in her class, who most captures Nora’s heart. She begins to live through them, separately and together, and believes that they are the keys to attaining her dreams. Of course, this can’t really happen, and since the Shahids do not reciprocate the need Nora feels towards them, they move on and Nora must cope with this loss as best she can, clinging to the memories of her year with them. I felt that the ending was great, until the very, very end, when I felt the author tried too hard for a big finish that, in my opinion, felt limp. Having said that, I loved the writing style, and the way Nora expressed herself and her feelings towards others and the life she feels has been (unfairly?) dealt to her. I also thought that Nora’s feelings at that time in her life (37 and single, no children, no life as an artist, a third-grade teacher, which was never her career goal at any stage in her life) were realistic and true, although raw and sometimes self-indulgent. But this book was ABOUT HER, so of course it was self-indulgent! That was one of the criticisms of the book in at least one review I read, but clearly that book reviewer had never been a 37 year old single woman whose life had not lived up to her expectations. It is definitely a book whose main character demands that the reader identify with her, in the same way that We Need to Talk About Kevin did. Now I’m not saying you have to have had those experiences to appreciate these books, but it helps a lot if you can at least envision what it would be like to have your ambitions thwarted because you made the wrong choices in life, or tried to do the right thing for others which maybe held you back in life. Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that this book may not be for everyone, but I thought it was great, despite the weak ending. Read it if you choose, but be warned that it is not a “feel-good” novel."
I think I would agree with everything I wrote nearly four years ago, although I didn't have such a negative reaction to the ending this time. I would still compare this to We Need to Talk About Kevin and also Zoe Heller's darkly comic, scathing novel What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal. I'll write about the highlights of our book club discussion next week - I'm curious to hear what others thought of this novel.
That's all for today. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!
Bye for now...