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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Woman Upstairs: A Novel
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2011
When I first read The Woman Upstairs, I was a young woman not much older than Diana Guthrie. At that time I think I was a little impatient with Diana and her inability to face people and get on with life. I enjoyed the author's evocative descriptive writing and attention to details (I loved the way I could picture everything - the people, the rooms, the settings), but at times I was annoyed with the constant flashbacks. Now, 24 years later, I am in a much different phase of my life - more memories, more heartaches, more defining life experiences - and I have much more understanding of and empathy for Diana and the rest of the characters. The writing still evokes strong emotions, but I see things differently now. I really appreciate how skillfully the author weaves it all together and I can keep up with the flashbacks, as that's how my life is these days, too.
Once you start to read the book, you'll want to just keep going until you're finished. An excellent novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Another free Kindle edition (I think it is not available for free any longer, but well worth its current price!) I found while, for the first two or three weeks after I received my Kindle, I was almost daily browsing the Kindle store, building up a library of well over 80 books (fiction and non fiction), almost all of them for free.
This novel by Mary W. Walters was first published in 1989, Amazon tells me.

The main character, Diana Guthrie, is seen heading back to her childhood home, where she has not been for 15 years; driven away by not only a strict and seemingly loveless mother, but by the generally restrictive atmosphere in the small town she grew up in as well as by a tragic event that changed her life forever and left her scarred.

She is going there now because she feels it is the right thing to do: she was told her mother is dying.

Already on the way back, her mind goes back and forth between past and present. We learn about the way things were dealt with at the Guthrie household, and begin to understand why Diana wanted to leave, HAD to leave in order for being a person in her own right.

Once arrived, Diana gets mixed reactions from the people there - her brother, an old school friend, the housekeeper, the family doctor and others -, and she herself is thrown into a turmoil of conflicting emotions, too.

It takes a while before she decides to climb the stairs and meet "the woman upstairs" who is, of course, her mother.

The book ends on a note that leaves the reader to imagine what Diana is going to do next; stay or leave again? Has she really begun to come to terms with the past?

I liked this novel. It was well written, atmospheric, and I could picture the places and characters in my mind. There were a few surprises for me; for instance, many authors like to use the weather or seasons for dramatic effect, and at first, I was sure Mary W. Walters was about to do that as well, and expected the oppressive humid heat described from when Diana first lands at the airport to dissolve into a huge tempest at the culmination of events and emotions. It does not happen, and that is maybe her way of using weather for dramatic effect - nothing goes "bang", suddenly changing Diana's whole approach to the past and to her mother, but things happen more subtly here, which is probably a lot more difficult to write.

I recommend this to anyone who likes stories about people who manage to find their own way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2012
I loved the style of this book, which contains just the right mix of introspection, description and interplay of characters for my tastes. Diana has been estranged from her mother her entire adult life. Now thirty-three, she learns her mother is dying, so with great misgivings, she journeys from her home in Edmonton back to Ontario where she grew up. The story takes place over the course of only two or three days, but through flashbacks we're taken through years of Diana's life, and we learn the causes of her anger at her mother. The author portrays the difficult relationship between the mothers and daughters in this novel well. I really like how the reader gradually comes to see that despite Diana's quest to escape her mother and grandmother, to live a different life and make different choices they they did, she has not succeeded as fully as she thinks she has. She's more like both women than she knows. Although I'm disposed to take Diana's side and believe that her mother was colder and less loving than she could or should have been, the author still manages to create a sense of sympathy for her mother. She did the best she could.

The only reason this book gets four rather than five stars is the ending. The whole novel is building up to the moment when Diana finally develops the courage to face her dying mother, and I would have liked to see a more clear resolution between them. The lack of this feels very true to life, but it leaves my readerly wishes for a happier ending unsatisfied.

This was a beautiful and highly readable novel. I loved the descriptions of Edmonton and Ontario. I grew up in a prairie city and later moved to Ontario, and I found the descriptions were dead on. The nuanced look at families and generations of women put me in mind of one of my favourite writers, Margaret Laurence. I look forward to reading more by this author.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2011
I found this book a fascinating read. I read it when it was first published many years ago and loved it then. I recently re-read it and loved it just as much the second time around. I found the writing exquisite - I love the author's great ability to use language so beautifully, to describe settings and feelings so accurately that I felt I could reach out and touch them. This story tells of a young woman coming to grips with her past and herself, which is to me at the heart of what it means to become a grown-up; never an easy task but one that can lead one to unimagined places. A great novel!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2013
I could not put this book down. I found the technique of Diana's journeys into the past as present day incidences triggered memory intriguing, and I continued reading so as to discover the 'secrets' of the past. I was not disappointed. I would recommend this book with no reservations whatsoever.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2014
A Mother lies dying. Her children, caught in the roles created in their childhoods. Only the girl thinks about how they came to this place. I didn't notice any answers. But the questions felt universal.

Enjoy this story. It is a snapshot of family.

K Agle.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2014
interesting character study of a woman effected by the suicide of her childhood love and the wall that her unacknowledged anger creates. we are our mother's children no matter how much we try not to be. well worth the read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2013
This is the perfect book for a plane. Very engaging; great character development with a story line to which is easy to relate
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on April 20, 2013
I picked this up when it was free on Kindle as I knew Mary Waters to be an excellent blog writer. (Someone famous once said that a person who writes good letters is a good writer, and I have found the same to be true of those who write good blog posts). I thought I would dip into it a few nights after I got it, and found myself in that happy situation of not being able to put it down. I went to college in Canada (though American born and bred) and I have a great affection for the best Canadian literature. I found here shades of Alice Munro and even of Robertson Davies in the way that the social mores of southern Ontario are illuminated. There is a slow reveal of here of the core of Ms. Guthrie, the main character, and of the incidents that made her into the woman she has become. It is a carefully made book and I enjoyed it from beginning to end.
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on May 13, 2014
Yeah, I liked it. Left me hanging a little. Definitely lots of deep thinking - not much action if that's what you're looking for.
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