Tag Archives: Lady Gaga

The Woman Upstairs – Claire Messud

As of next week on Monday’s something slightly different is coming to Savidge Reads. I had planned to start it today however I wanted to get my thoughts on Clare Messud’s ‘The Woman Upstairs’ out into the ether before it is talked about on my favourite book show, Australia’s ‘The Book Club’, tomorrow. It is a book I am somewhat confused about, so I really can’t wait for the show.

Virago Books, 2013, hardback, 301 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

From the very first line of ‘The Woman Upstairs’ we are taken into the head of Nora Eldridge. From the outside she is one of life’s good people who everyone thinks is lovely, she is a teacher after all and she cared for her mother through her terminal illness, yet no one really takes the time to actually befriend her. Once we are inside her head, as the reader is, it becomes clear that still waters run deep and Nora is a woman who has been good but had also spent years of her life getting very, very angry.

“How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.”

Why is Nora so angry? Well to tell you that would give quite a lot away, but I will say that in part it is because she is aware she has naturally become one of life’s wallflowers but also when the Shadid family come into her life, when Reza becomes one of her students, Nora experiences a side of life she gas never seen before, she becomes useful and a trusted friend to both his father, Skandar, and also his mother, Sirena, who is an artist something Nora only ever got to the point she teaches it rather than exhibits it. It is through this friendship that Nora at once flowers and strangely starts to unravel.

Yet like with Nora and her complexities and the fact she is really at odds with herself and those around her, becoming something of a contradiction, so is ‘The Woman Upstairs’ as a book itself. It is one that I found utterly compelling and fascinating, then rather timid and (I hate to say it) a bit dull and boring in parts. In fact very like Nora all over, so maybe that was the point and I missed it, which could easily be the case.

“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 that are too damn foolish, and my worry now is that we’re brainwashing them from the cradle, and in the end 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 too my classroom, to the third grade, they’re well and truly gone – they’re full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and how their hair looks! In the third grade. The care more about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics.”

The rage and anger that Nora expresses in the first chapter made the book utterly compelling and I thought ‘ooh this is going to be a great dark outpouring here’, yet every great first chapter really needs the rest of the book to live up to it and keep the momentum and as I read on the book held its own for the first third and then I just found the middle section really, really monotonous. I felt like Messud had lost the fire of Nora and the passion she had to put this voice out there and so started to use Nora and Sirena to talk about art and what it means to the individual and the masses. None of which I could really have given a toss about, and with the right voice I should have, I just found myself wanting Nora to get bloody furious again and do something with all that fury.

“You’re thinking, how would I know whether I was romantically in love, I whose apparently nonexistent love life would suggest a prudish vacancy, uterus shrivelled like a corn husk and withered dugs for breasts? You’re thinking that whatever else she does, the Woman Upstairs with her cats and her pots of tea and her Sex and the City reruns and her goddamn Garnet Hill catalog, the woman with her class of third graders and her carefully pearly smile – whatever else she manages, she doesn’t have a love life to speak of.”  

Instead what happened seemed to be a concoction of what I had read before. Nora is very, very like Barbara from ‘Notes on a Scandal’ and I have read the ‘lonely spinster befriends the family’ routine before, Messud even throws in a clichéd twist that you might spot from the start yet hope the author won’t use and then does. Yet then oddly in the final third of the book things start to pick up again as the menace that brims through the first third looks like it might come to fruition. Only it doesn’t and whilst I sort of liked the twist at the end I felt like really it was how we left Nora and what she might do next that would have made an even better story, if that makes sense?

It felt a bit like all the promise, in the form of the anger, that had been in the beginning of the book sort of died out in the explanation of it and yet the anger that I found so utterly refreshing only came back at the end and then… well, who knows. I guess I was a bit disappointed. I also wonder if I simply expected more drama or something darker because that is what most authors do and that, like many reviews I have since read, I should actually embrace the fact the book encapsulated the reality of the situation instead.

Either way, as you can probably tell, there are lots of elements that make ‘The Woman Upstairs’ a really interesting read. You may find yourself like me, someone who loved the rage and got a bit bogged down in the middle, or be someone who marvels at the realities the book gives you. It is one book that I am almost 100% certain would make a brilliant book club choice, hence why I am so excited about seeing tomorrows ‘The Book Club’ and particularly what Marieke Hardy makes of it, and one that will cause much debate which is always a good thing.

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Filed under Claire Messud, Review, Virago Books

My Desert Island Discs

I have decided to do something a bit different and do something completely un-bookish on Savidge Reads today despite tagging it with a Simon’s Bookish Bits label. As I mentioned earlier in the week books have been slightly on the back burner here at Savidge HQ and I have been turning to some utter trash TV, fabulous films, Pride and Prejudice (the good version), and music. Music is possibly my all time second love behind books and so I thought I would do a post on it. Seeing ‘Heartburn’ on the telly the other day one of my all time favourite songs came on the soundtrack. This set me off thinking… what are my all time songs?

When I think of favourite songs and the stories behind them I cant help but think of a superb radio show we have in the UK called ‘Desert Island Discs’. This radio show, which has been running since 1942, sees well known people of all varieties imagining they are stranded on a desert island with only eight songs and a luxury item, etc. They also have a look back over their lives so I thought I would have a whim of grandeur and imagine what I would choose right now should the BBC ask *hint*. Without further ado here they are…

Smooth Operator – Sade
This has to be the first song on the list because it’s the first song that I can actually remember (though the first music I ever remember is The Archers theme oddly enough) from my childhood. It reminds me specifically of dancing around my Mum’s bedroom in Matlock Bath when I was little. (Another song I remember vividly form that time is Wham’s ‘Bad Boys’ which my aunties played constantly – they were about 14 and 16.) According to Wikipedia I would have been about 2 years old when this arrives. Apparently I used to sing ‘Move Over Red Eye’ instead of smooth operator.

Love Game – Lady Gaga
I could have chosen a couple of songs by the Gaga because she is the writer of modern anthems frankly. I chose ‘Love Game’ because in part it is my favourite song of album one and also back in late 2007 I interviewed her – and was only the second UK journalist to do so. It was a surreal moment as she was wearing huge sunglasses and had dancers sat on each side of her trained to stare at you. Anyway I got the lyrics to this song (we had the advance album) mixed up and promptly kept saying something that wasn’t ‘disco stick’ so when it’s on it makes me smile.

Viva Forever – Spice Girls
I never claimed to be cool before you all start taking the mickey out of me for this one. The Spice Girls were the biggest band ever during my school years. I remember everyone in my year being completely obsessed, the pencil cases, the Walkers crisp packets, lollipops – I could go on. This one of all their singles was special to me in part because it came out after Geri left, I can’t lie I was rather upset. More importantly it is because it reminds me of my little sister being a very, very little baby. I used to get to look after her a lot and when she would cry at 16 years old I would pop this on and sing to her and sure enough off she would go to sleep.

Yellow – Coldplay
Now I know they aren’t exactly indie but I do like some indie music (I went to Knebworth to see Oasis – yeah was proper into all that indie Britpop) and some proper bands. I liked Coldplay from the off as the second time I left home I ended up living in Kent and had my first joyous times in a house share. This reminds me of that time, and a new level of independence, because I dated someone for a while who sang it to me in the bath and it evokes a lot with me.

Into The Groove – Madonna
With a legend like Madonna it is really, really hard too choose one specific song but in the end I had to choose ‘Into The Groove’ because I really remember this as a youth in and also very much in my late teens, early twenties and even now. It reminds me of places I lived as a kid, my first big nights out clubbing and some of my friend’s recent weddings. In a weird way for me it’s a really timeless song that completely reminds me of good times.

Super Massive Black Hole – Muse 
Now you might be surprised to see Muse in my list of songs but I love Muse, I have all their albums. Out of all their songs I think ‘Super Massive Black Hole’ is incredible. I don’t know if anyone else has a theme tune that you can simply pop on and it gives you some weird kind of confidence? It was also a song that became a bit of an anthem when I came out of a long relationship and you know how you need a good anthem in times like that. It stills cheers me up now if I pop it on.

Coming Around Again – Carly Simon
I heard this song recently when I watched ‘Heartburn’ and it started me off with the whole idea of this post. This song reminds me of my Mum and my Gran, as they both love her. It also really reminds me of Newcastle where I went with my mother when she went to University, it’s also where I met Polly of Novel Insights all those years ago. I can really remember the flat we lived in, not quite halls but not far off, and how we would both sit and listen to the album of the same name for hours when we were eating dinner, or just pottering around – we didn’t have a telly that I can remember. A very nostalgic favourite.

Confide in Me – Kylie Minogue
Could quite possibly the song that I would choose above all the others if I only had one to take on a desert island! It’s quite a haunting song, and very unlike a lot of her other work. I was a Kylie and Jason child and I really remember she had disappeared for a few years and came back with this and I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on it. I remember saving my pocket money to buy this single on tape and getting it in Bath of all places. I then made Granny Savidge and Bongy (my granddad) play it about ten times – and it’s a good 5 minutes long – on their car stereo when all they probably wanted to listen to was Classic FM. It’s a song that having turned to it so often I associate with all times in my life. I can turn to it be I happy, sad or in between it always does just the trick. That probably sounds odd doesn’t it?

So that’s my 8 songs that I would take on a desert island, did it help you get to know me a little bit better? Would you have guessed any of these songs might feature? I wondered if some of you would take up the challenge of choosing their 8 desert island discs so we can get to know you all a little better, what do you think? Let me know if you do, and let me know what you thought of my selection!?!

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Filed under Simon's Bookish Bits