Relationships in love usually start out lopsided – someone loves the other more, it is the nature of relationships. The great achievement in relationships is when love evolves to be mutual and this begins with respect as the first building block. Over the long haul respect is more important than love because it leads to personal growth & longevity.
Even though I adored this great book, I found myself wincing a lot reading The Woman Upstairs because Nora is an overly generous woman who is so enchanted by a family of three that she has no instincts for self protection.
Women who give too much need to embrace their self-protectiveness more. When they don’t, there is often betrayal and on some level they (& Nora) have allowed it. Even though I knew I was reading fiction I found myself saying to Nora, “What about your art?” “Where are your boundaries?” “Ask her to help you instead of always helping her.” I read onward with many misgivings.
I loved the vitality of Nora’s anger in the first chapter and in the very first sentence. This marvelous book is about her journey to finding her anger. Anger can be life enhancing because it is a part of learning to be self-protective.
Anger is a demand from your soul to factor yourself into the equation. Nora finding her anger is deciding she matters. We often misjudge anger because those who are best at it use it too often to demand they are important. Then there are those who are lopsided in selflessness who swallow their anger and don’t use it at all.
Nora never got angry along the way with Sirena. She was happy to be the moon in quiet orbit of Sirena’s earth. Nora never says, “Hey, it’s my turn now.” She is easily satisfied with the crumbs tossed her way.
Nora recognizes she plays a part in her betrayal. The lies she tells herself with her creative imagination and the love affairs she plays out in her mind are rich in denial.
Nora is single, never married and easily dismissed by the culture at large. Unmarried women without children are often invisible. The author really understands how deeply hungry they are to be seen and recognized.
Over many years I’ve had profound empathy for these women that society shunts aside. There is a deep injustice that translates into them dismissing themselves because of their experiences layered over time. The author, Claire Messud gets it right.
Therapy is often about reality checks that no one wants to hear. Her best friend Didi is gay and offers her unwanted doses of reality. Nora ignores her wisdom because it doesn’t fit in with what I call the ‘Star Trek Parallel Universe’ that she has created in her imagination.
The ‘Star Trek Parallel Universe’ is the story we love to tell ourselves whether it is true or not. The book begins and ends with Nora’s newly discovered anger. Anger is a rocket ship that can propel you out of denial & self pity and into the fire of action. People often use their anger to start a new life after divorce, death or betrayal.
This is a moving book because you grow to care for Nora, even while you know she is doomed. At the same time her life might have continued to be mediocre if she hadn’t had hopes of being a part of her new friends success.
It’s her anger that she’s now earned that will help her take the risks she’s avoided until being so badly hurt. Often in life when something terrible happens it can be a new beginning that is indeed transforming.