Hmmm… I will have to get to this one soon, as Henry James, Emily Dickinson, and Edie Sedgwick have all been mentioned in this blog:
How much of Nora’s fantasy is true — and to what degree the Shahids must share blame where it is false — is at the core of Messud’s novel. Though she invokes Ellison, the writer Messud brings to mind is Henry James — with his involuted prose, often unreliable narrators and focus on the disconnect between American innocence and European experience.
It becomes increasingly clear that we can’t always rely on Nora’s view of events. Even as she pointedly tells us that she is the woman upstairs, rather than the mad woman in the attic, her art commemorates suicidal figures such as Alice Neel, Edie Sedgwick and Virginia Woolf. Nora herself suffers a breakdown of sorts in the aptly named Galerie Werther.
But like Emily Dickinson — the predecessor that Nora’s art most fully honors — Nora’s heightened state lets her see things others miss: how postmodernism reduces meaning to pastiche and art to easily consumed images; how women continually “glimpse freedom too late, at too high a price”; and, in an exquisitely rendered nod to that most Jamesian of themes, how she has failed to fully live because she has been overly afraid of dying.