Who’s Afraid of Claire Messud?

At the heart of the novel is a less sensational yet still unconventional story: that of two girls learning to make their way in the world, told with all the complication and unruliness of life, and also with an unspoken argument about what it means to tell a story like this. As children we experience the raw brute force of our feelings, but in the formative adolescent years, Messud told me, we learn how to be a person — ‘‘what it is to be a daughter, what it is to be a friend, what home means, what love means.’’ We learn these things by observing other people, but also from the stories that we hear: the books we read, the films we watch, the myths our culture teaches us. Yet the narratives for girls tend to be ‘‘dire,’’ she said, with violence at the forefront. With ‘‘The Burning Girl,’’ she hoped to write what she calls ‘‘a children’s book for grown-ups,’’ a book that acknowledges the inarticulable, even irrational power of emotion — an ‘‘animal thing’’ beyond understanding. It treats the interaction between two best friends with the detail and fervor usually reserved for romantic love.

This brief, almost fable-like novel is a departure for Messud. After publishing a string of well-received but not commercially successful books, she had a breakout hit with ‘‘The Emperor’s Children’’ (2006), a darkly comic saga about bright young media types making their way in Manhattan in the months before and after Sept. 11. Her last novel, ‘‘The Woman Upstairs’’ (2013), opens with a soliloquy of rage declaimed by a middle-aged teacher named Nora who develops a friendship with an artist that turns into a disorienting obsession. ‘‘How angry am I? You don’t want to know,’’ she blasts. What she’s most angry about, it turns out, are her own unfulfilled dreams of artistic genius, and the social strictures that pressure her to swallow them and behave herself. As a ‘‘woman upstairs’’ — a play on the 19th-century trope of the madwoman in the attic, often interpreted as a symbol of patriarchal repression — she has become ‘‘the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway . . . completely invisible,’’ whom you barely notice, except to nod to. ‘‘It was supposed to say ‘Great Artist’ on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say ‘such a good teacher/daughter/friend’ instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that…

Read the full article from the Source…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *