It is what you haven’t done that will torment you.
For me, The Woman Upstairs had a great start and a good end, but lagged in the middle. Her writing was wonderful throughout, which is what got me through all the art-talk, and Nora’s internal dialogue about the Shahids and how they make her feel. That stuff was okay, but I would have liked it more if there had been less of it.
The Woman Upstairs starts off with a bang; I love how angry she is:
How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.
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’ sh*t and my brother’s sh*t, and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty f**king 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 every day on the telephone…
The writing kept me going, but also the fact that I wanted to know what was going to happen between Nora and the Shahids that has put her in such a rage. And, once I finally got to the end, I suddenly wanted to know more. We will forever be in the same boat as Nora – not knowing why, how, or what the Shahids were thinking.
Overall, I’m glad I read it. The idea of the Woman Upstairs is fascinating to think about (especially being around the same age as Nora). It could happen to any of us. It’s so easy to just let life happen and let the years slip by.
The best thing about this book was the writing – here are a few good passages:
… hunger of one kind or another – desire by another name – is the source of almost every sorrow.
It’s the strangest thing about being human: to know so much, to communicate so much, and yet always to fall so drastically short of clarity, to be, in the end, so isolate and inadequate.
It was longing – “longing” is a better word than “desire”: it carries its quality of reaching but not attaining, of yearning, of a physical pull that is intense and yet melancholy, always already a little sorrowful, self-knowing, in some wise passionate and in some measure resigned. Desire suggests a burning, fervid, unreflective, something that wants, above all, satisfaction. And what you have to see about my Shahids is that always, at any moment… I always knew that my desire could not be satisfied, that it would never be satisfied; but that I was still close enough to hold on, intermittently, to the fantasy of its satisfaction, and that this, this was enough to keep it, for so very long, alive.
This review at the Quill & Quire explains pretty much the way I felt about the book. So many good things about it, but a bit of a “slog” through the middle. I also wanted to tell Nora the same thing as this reviewer: “…just get on with it. Find your joy, Nora. Don’t rely on someone else to find it for you.”