Claire Messud’s latest novel, The Woman Upstairs, has been getting a ton of great critical buzz (and was also in the recent women’s fiction satire video Ron Charles released). In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Messud is asked about the likeability of her main character Nora. She completely calls out the interviewer–illuminating the sexism in a question that would not be posed to a male author in that way or asked at all.
I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.
For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”
An Unseemly Emotion: PW Talks with Claire Messud