“How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know.” Those are the opening lines of Claire Messud’s new novel, The Woman Upstairs. The novel is about a single woman, Nora, who hasn’t fulfilled her dreams of being an artist and having children. Nora’s plight is complicated when she befriends a woman who has done both.
The book explores deeper themes about what it means to sacrifice everything for one’s art and the inner life of a person whose dreams have been thwarted in relation to external realities. Part of that inner life, says Messud, is anger and she has long been interested in how anger manifests itself in the form of a rant.
“As a reader since very early I have found myself drawn to rants,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I was in my senior year of high school when I read Notes From Underground by Dostoyevksy and it was an exhilarating discovery. I hadn’t known up until that moment that fiction could be like that. Fiction could say these things, could be unseemly, could be unsettling and distressing in that particular way, that immediate and urgent way. And in the many years since I have read and loved a number of ranting narrators, and it struck me eventually that they were all men and that I didn’t know of a book in which a woman expressed her anger and I thought perhaps I should write one.”