The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

79%

17 Critic Reviews

The story is riveting – tense with suspense and dark with foreknowledge that it cannot end well. The seemingly innocuous schoolteacher teems with an unnerving rage, a turbid inner life.
-Financial Times

Synopsis

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Emperor’s Children, a masterly new novel: the riveting confession of a woman awakened, transformed and betrayed by a desire for a world beyond her own.

Nora Eldridge, an elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, long ago compromised her dream to be a successful artist, mother and lover. She has instead become the “woman upstairs,” a reliable friend and neighbor always on the fringe of others’ achievements. Then into her life arrives the glamorous and cosmopolitan Shahids—her new student Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale, and his parents: Skandar, a dashing Lebanese professor who has come to Boston for a fellowship at Harvard, and Sirena, an effortlessly alluring Italian artist.

When Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies, Nora is drawn deep into the complex world of the Shahid family; she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora’s happiness explodes her boundaries, and she discovers in herself an unprecedented ferocity—one that puts her beliefs and her sense of self at stake.

Told with urgency, intimacy and piercing emotion, this brilliant novel of passion and artistic fulfillment explores the intensity, thrill—and the devastating cost—of embracing an authentic life.


This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide. 

 

About Claire Messud

See more books from this Author
Claire Messud's most recent novel, The Emperor's Children, was a New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post Best Book of the Year. Her first novel, When the World Was Steady, and her book of novellas, The Hunters, were both finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award; and her second novel, The Last Life, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and Editor's Choice at The Village Voice. All four books were named New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Messud has been awarded Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.
 
Published April 30, 2013 by Vintage. 321 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Woman Upstairs
All: 17 | Positive: 14 | Negative: 3

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Liesl Schillinger on May 03 2013

Sirena’s grander, more potent vision acts as a touchstone for Nora, sharpening her feelings about her own work.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on May 02 2013

...the dense, self-reflexive writing and the willfully commercial plot combine here to create what is, in the end, an intriguing but ungainly Frankenstein monster of a novel.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Nicholas Lezard on Jan 18 2014

When we finally get to see why Nora was so angry at the beginning, it's an extraordinary betrayal that is also a clever surprise. So this is, after all, a very grown-up novel, and because it's published by Virago it doesn't have one of those cliched covers that are foisted on female authors these days.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Elizabeth Day on May 25 2013

The interplay between reality and imagination in this textual hall of mirrors makes for a deft study of character underpinned by a gripping narrative.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Joanna Briscoe on May 17 2013

This is a novel in which very little happens. Yet it is also an addictive page-turner, and written with such artistry that the reader can do little but succumb. Rarely has the mundane been so dazzling.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Elizabeth Day on May 25 2013

The interplay between reality and imagination in this textual hall of mirrors makes for a deft study of character underpinned by a gripping narrative.

Read Full Review of The Woman Upstairs | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Joanna Briscoe on May 17 2013

Reminiscent in some ways of The Bell Jar in its wry yet furious take on women's position in society, this is a strongly feminist novel that is neither didactic nor straightforwardly political.

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WSJ online

Below average
Reviewed by Sam Sacks on Apr 26 2013

..."The Woman Upstairs" updates the dictum of Virginia's Woolf's manifesto...But the writing in "The Woman Upstairs" bears little resemblance to Woolf's crystalline prose.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Lionel Shriver on May 16 2013

Do the Shahids return the narrator's affections, or are they merely using her for free baby-sitting...I'm not telling. Read the book. Which is fantastic — one of those seemingly small stories that so burst with rage and desire that they barely squeeze between hard covers.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Jane Ciabattari on Apr 25 2013

...a suspenseful psychological thriller, propelled by the question of what has so enraged Nora.

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Kirkus

Excellent
on Feb 18 2013

Messud persuasively plunges us into the tortured psyche of a conflicted soul whose defiant closing assertion inspires little confidence that Nora can actually change her ways. Brilliant and terrifying.

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Financial Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Lionel Shriver on May 31 2013

The story is riveting – tense with suspense and dark with foreknowledge that it cannot end well. The seemingly innocuous schoolteacher teems with an unnerving rage, a turbid inner life.

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Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Jim Carmin on Apr 27 2013

It is difficult for the reader to gain much sympathy for any of the characters in “The Woman Upstairs,”...Reza is not examined fully; Sirena is a bit narcissistic; Skandar is depicted somewhat one-dimensionally...

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Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Nancy Wigston on Apr 26 2013

Messud’s depiction of the art world — as embodied by the terrifically ambitious Sirena — bristles with irony.

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The Economist

Excellent
on Apr 20 2013

“The Woman Upstairs” is not a pretty read, but that is precisely what makes it so hard to put down.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Kate Carraway on May 03 2013

This is a virtuosic story of a life, except, it’s not a story of “having it all”, or not: it’s a story about how abstractly and accidentally choices get made...

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Kate Carraway on May 03 2013

This is a virtuosic story of a life, except, it’s not a story of “having it all”, or not: it’s a story about how abstractly and accidentally choices get made, and how simultaneously quiet and chaotic all of that wanting and getting and having and losing it all really is.

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Reader Rating for The Woman Upstairs
58%

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