No to the "Woman Upstairs" for me But . . . .

The Woman UpstairsThe Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I tried to find something of lasting literary value in this book but I just don't think so, all the possibilities fall short.  The Woman Upstairs is the modern single woman.   What did this book have to say about that?  That she fixates on others to fill the void?  That she can fall in unrequited love with every single family member of her special student?  That she is like the typical American who has a thing for foreigners, and naturally gets it all wrong?  That she didn't even know how to love herself or her own family?  That she tries to bury herself in art and is so mediocre that even she can't buy it?   That she will always be the other woman to the likes of a true artist like Virginia Wolf or George Sand? Sorry, I don't buy it.  BUT some others that I trust are really loving the book (like my friend Stephanie Harris that is another female lawyer / voracious reader, so check out her books and if you like what she likes, this book may be for you).  Also the First Chapter is chalk full of great thought, so let me give you more detail to help you decide if you want to pick it up (if you live in the Paris Area, you can check it out from the Library).

Here is the beginning:

"How angry am I?  You don't want to know.  Nobody wants to know about that."

--Oh yes, I do!  That definitely peaked my interest so let's continue.

"I'm a good girl.  I'm a nice girl.  I'm a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody's boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents' shit and brother's shit and I'm not a girl anyhow, I'm over forty fucking years old, and I'm good at my job and I'm great with kids and I held my mother's hand when she died,after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father ever day on the telephone -- every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it's pretty gray and a big muggy too?  It was supposed to say "Great Artist" on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say "Such a good teacher/daughter/friend" instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL."

Ok, SO.  I'm not there, but I'm intrigued by this, because I could be there and have been there and know several others who are there or have been there.  Good stuff in women's literary fiction that, so let's continue just a bit more.

"Don't all women feel the same?  The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury.  We're all furies, except the ones who are too damned foolish, and my worry now is that we're brainwashing them from the cradle, and in the end even the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish. What do I mean?  I mean the second graders at Appleton Elementary, sometimes the first graders even, and by the time they get to my classroom, to the third grad, they're well and truly gone -- they're full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and cute outfits and they care how their hair looks! In the third grade.  They care more about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics. How did all that revolutionary talk of the seventies land us in a place where being female means playing dumb and looking good?  Even worse on your tombstone than "dutiful daughter" is "looking good"; everyone used to know that.  But we're lost in a world of appearances now."

So you see why it hooked me! Yes!!! This stuff is so true, so now, so what we are all thinking and not saying.  Chapter One was awesome.  And there were some more brilliant moments, but unfortunately, the first fifty pages gets all the effort these days.  So it didn't get there for me in a total package way, and I didn't particularly like the underlying story either so that is why it got just a three when it is clearly good literary writing, but that is just my opinion.  You read it and see what you think!

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Zelna Smith said…
I fully agree you!! That the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish

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Sydney Young said…
Lol! You are right. I have to laugh at myself a little on that point!

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