REVIEW: THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, BY CLAIRE MESSUD

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What is the nature of love? What would an individual do for her art? And what betrayal could transform a person into someone no longer invisible? Someone who could finally and truly live?

In the opening lines of The Woman Upstairs, our protagonist and first person narrator, Nora Eldridge, is expressing her rage. And as she lashes out, she lists all of the traits that make her a good person: she is a good teacher, a daughter who held her dying mother’s hand, a daughter who speaks to her father every day.

She is now a woman looking back at a time in her life. A time that consumed more of her than imaginable, and almost turned her permanently into the woman outside the main action. Someone who is looking on while others succeed; someone who draws her primary sustenance from the crumbs of another family’s table.

The Year of the Shahids was that time for Nora, when she became obsessed with each of them, starting with the son, Reza, a student in her third grade class in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His mother, an artist, and someone Nora would like to emulate, is Sirena: beautiful, talented, and with the ability to draw Nora into her web. Yes, to me, looking on, it feels like a web. But maybe that is just my perception. It does not seem to be Nora’s view. She falls a little bit in love with the husband/father, too: Skandara, a charming intellectual.

She ends up sharing an artist’s studio with Sirena, and becoming a part of the family. Almost. There are times when she sinks into her invisibility again, dependent on the crumbs from their table.

A fascinating tale, one in which we see what happens to Nora during that obsessive year; we watch her afterwards, how she keeps tabs on them after they have returned to Paris, via Google alerts; and then there are the following years when she goes to Paris and sees the famous installation of Wonderland…and is stunned by a finding that will finally unleash her rage.

A truly captivating read that reveals several unlikeable and self-absorbed characters, and even the protagonist is someone you might want to warn about how things will truly play out in the end. But, like most people, she had to learn her own lessons and come to her own realizations. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE BOOK OF YOU, BY CLAIRE KENDAL

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A terrifying and gut-wrenching journey, The Book of You: A Novel leads the reader through the harrowing world of one woman…and the man who persistently and obsessively follows her into every corner of that world.

Clarissa is a young woman who met Rafe one night after a book event at the university. A night she does not remember afterwards, but she knows that somehow she and Rafe were together.

Now he believes he owns her and will not let her escape.

Narrated from Clarissa’s viewpoint and partially through her notebook entries, we learn what it feels like to be pursued relentlessly. She is keeping the notes and all the weird gifts he sends her, because she has researched stalking and knows that she must have a lot of evidence.

But her nightmare does not end when the police finally come into the case. No, it is almost as if nothing or nobody can stop him.

 
The story is set in the English town of Bath, and the author drew the characters and settings with such realism that I felt as though I were there with them.

What must happen to finally end the nightmare? And afterwards, how will Clarissa pick up the pieces of her life again? How does her time spent as a juror in a trial about a woman victimized somehow save her? And how does her growing friendship with one of the jurors lend a brightness to her world?

An intense story that I could not put down, I hoped for a final resolution. And there is a partial resolution, but unanswered questions remain. Definitely a memorable story that earned five stars.

REVIEW: THE LAST WINTER OF DANI LANCING, BY P. D. VINER

17262454Twenty years have passed since that last hard winter of Dani Lancing’s life. The life that had been cut short by her brutal murder. The case is long cold, but the mourners are still haunted by not knowing what had happened to her, trying to piece together the few clues to discover the answers.

The parents, Jim and Patty, are each obsessed: Jim, haunted by fleeting images of Dani at various ages in her life, and seemingly, now, after her death; Patty is on a quest to find the murderer(s), even going to such extremes that now, twenty years later, when the police are reopening the case, she is determined to find her own answers. She doesn’t quite trust the police to find them. Patty and Jim have long since lost their connection to one another, their marriage destroyed.

DS Tom Bevan is the police detective assigned to the cold case. He was also Dani’s friend for years…and suffered from unrequited love.

Set in London and Durham, from the 1980s to 2010, the story jags back and forth through time, in a fractured fashion, revealing the The Last Winter of Dani Lancing: A Novel through the various voices of the characters, past and present. The answers do not come all at once, but in bits and pieces, and the stunning surprises at the end reveal a quagmire of corruption, vengeance, cover-ups, and flawed humanity. This is not a story for the faint of heart, as the human condition is exposed in its greatest darkness and frailty. It is definitely a twisted tale with much to ponder about the lengths to which people will go for those they love. It is also difficult to follow at times, with the peripatetic narrative, and some of the conclusions seem a bit incredible. But the reader will want answers, so the book is impossible to put down. 4.0 stars.