The Woman Upstairs

( 42 )

Overview

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

Nora Eldridge, a thirty-seven-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who long ago abandoned her ambition to be a successful artist, has become the "woman upstairs," a reliable friend and tidy neighbor always on the fringe of others' ...

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Overview

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

Nora Eldridge, a thirty-seven-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who long ago abandoned her ambition to be a successful artist, has become the "woman upstairs," a reliable friend and tidy neighbor always on the fringe of others' achievements. Then into her classroom walks Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents—dashing Skandar, a Lebanese scholar and professor at the École Normale Supérleure; and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist—have come to Boston for Skandar to take up a fellowship at Harvard. When Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who call him a "terrorist," Nora is drawn 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, until Sirena's careless ambition leads to a shattering betrayal. Told with urgency, intimacy, and piercing emotion, this story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill—and the devastating cost—of giving in to one's passions. 

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Ron Charles
…a tightly wound monologue with the intensity of a novella that reads more like a curse…You can catch the faint scent of some toxic mold from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or Notes on a Scandal or even The Talented Mr. Ripley…If Nora is a monster, she's also a sympathetic and perceptive victim. But of what? Bad luck? Self-pity? A chauvinistic society? A more polemic, far less enjoyable novel would hand us the answer. But Messud isn't writing an op-ed, and her story's feminist critique of America rubs raw against her deconstruction of sisterhood. What eventually rises above these gender issues is Nora's pained howl.
The New York Times Book Review - Liesl Schillinger
It's exhilarating to encounter such unrestrained vehemence in a work by this controlled, intellectual author. Messud's previous novels, albeit extraordinarily intelligent and well-crafted, are characterized by rationed or distant emotion. The Woman Upstairs is utterly different—its language urgent, its conflicts outsize and unmooring, its mood incendiary. This psychologically charged story feels like a liberation. Messud's prose grabs the reader by the collar…Reading Nora's turbulent testament of belief and betrayal, you feel less like a spectator than a witness…In this ingenious, disquieting novel, [Messud] has assembled an intricate puzzle of self-belief and self-doubt, showing the peril of seeking your own image in someone else's distorted mirror—or even, sometimes, in your own.
Publishers Weekly
The gifted Messud, writing her way through the ages, has now arrived at a woman in her 40s–and it’s not pretty. Nora Eldridge, a schoolteacher who dreams of being an artist, is angry, cynical, and quietly desperate. Then she meets the Shahid family: Sirena, Skandar, and Reza, a student in Nora’s third-grade class at Appleton Elementary in Cambridge, Mass. When Sirena asks Nora to share an artists’ studio, Nora falls in love with each exotic Shahid in turn: Sirena, for her artistic vision; Skandar, for his intellectual fervor; and Reza, because he’s a perfectly beautiful child, bullied at school but magnanimous. In her previous books, Messud (The Emperor’s Children) has set individuals against the weight of kin; here is an individual who believes she’s found a vigorous self in the orbit of a dangerously charismatic family. But after freeing Nora from herself, the Shahids betray her, Sirena especially, cruelly exploiting a private moment of Nora’s newfound joy with an intimate work of art Sirena shows in Paris without Nora’s knowledge. As with other Messud characters, these too are hard to love; few would want to know the unpalatable Nora, so full of self-loathing, nor the self-important Shahids. Agent: Georges and Anne Borchardt, the Borchardt Agency. (May)
Library Journal
The setup in this elegant winner of a novel seems so obvious; aren’t warning bells sounding for Nora Eldridge? A middle-aged Boston-area elementary school teacher and artist manqué who cuttingly describes herself as “the woman upstairs”—someone who can be depended on to be dependable—Nora is enthralled when sweet, smart, charming Reza Shadid enters her class. His Lebanese-born father has left a post in Paris to teach in America for a year, while his Italian-born mother, the appropriately named Sirena, is an artist of some renown. Together, this worldly, glamorous family seduces Nora, with Sirena especially culpable. She talks Nora into sharing a studio with her, and soon Nora is opening to all the possibilities life has to offer—possibilities she thought were dead and gone forever.

Verdict This quietly, tensely unfolding story is related in retrospect, so we know from the start that it has ended badly for Nora. The only question is how. Remarkably, Messud (The Emperor’s Children) lets us experience Nora’s betrayal as if it were our own, and what finally happens really is a punch in the stomach. Highly recommended.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A self-described "good girl" lifts her mask in Messud's scarifying new novel (The Emperor's Children, 2006, etc.). "How angry am I?" Nora Eldridge rhetorically asks in her opening sentence. "You don't want to know." But she tells us anyway. Nora is furious with her dead mother, her elderly father and her estranged brother, none of whom seem to have done anything very terrible. Basically, Nora is furious with herself: for failing to commit to being an artist, for settling for life as a third-grade teacher in Cambridge, Mass., for lacking the guts even to be openly enraged. Instead, she is the woman upstairs, "whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell." So when the exotic Shahid family enters her life in the fall of 2004, Nora sees them as saviors. Reza is in her class; after another student attacks and calls the half-Lebanese boy "a terrorist," she meets his Italian mother, Sirena, the kind of bold, assertive artist Nora longs to be. They wind up sharing a studio, and Nora eventually neglects her own work to help Sirena with a vast installation called Wonderland. She's also drawn to Skandar, an academic whose one-year fellowship has brought his family to Cambridge from Paris. "So you're in love with Sirena, and you want to fuck her husband and steal her child," comments Nora's friend Didi after she confesses her intense feelings. It's nowhere near that simple, as the story unfolds to reveal Sirena as something of a user--and perhaps Skandar too, though it's unwise to credit Nora's jaundiced perceptions. Her untrustworthy, embittered narration, deliberately set up as a feminine counterpoint to the rantings of Dostoevsky's Underground Man, is an astonishing feat of creative imagination: at once self-lacerating and self-pitying, containing enough truth to induce squirms. 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.
From the Publisher
“Fantastic. . . . Burst[ing] with rage and desire. . . . Messud writes about happiness, and about infatuation—about love—more convincingly than any author I’ve encountered in years.” —Lionel Shriver, NPR

“A liberation. Messud’s prose grabs the reader by the collar. . . . In this ingenious, disquieting novel, she has assembled an intricate puzzle of self-belief and self-doubt, showing the peril of seeking your own image in someone else’s distorted mirror—or even, sometimes, in your own.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A trenchant exploration into the mercenary nature of artistic creation. . . . Destined to become a cultural benchmark.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Fantastically smart.” —The Washington Post

“Riveting. . . . Messud is adept at evoking complex psychological territory. . . . She is interested in the identities that women construct for themselves, and in the maddening chasm that often divides intensity of aspiration from reality of achievement.” —The New Yorker

The Woman Upstairs dazzles. . . . [Messud is] among our greatest contemporary writers.” —The Miami Herald

“A work of such great emotional velocity.” —Chicago Tribune (Editor’s Choice)

“A liberation. Messud’s prose grabs the reader by the collar. . . . She has assembled an intricate puzzle of self-belief and self-doubt, showing the peril of seeking your own image in someone else’s distorted mirror—or even, sometimes, in your own.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Exhilarating. . . . After the final powerful paragraphs, in which Nora howls in galvanized fury, throw it down and have a drink, or a dreamless nap. Don’t be surprised if you then pick it back up and start all over again. A” —Entertainment Weekly

 “Startling: a psychological and intellectual thriller.” —Los Angeles Times

“Mesmerizing. . . . While it was Messud’s achingly beautiful characters crystallizing midlife that drew me in, it was her grotesque portrait of an inner life free to swell, untethered to the realities of children, a spouse and a mortgage that made me think.” —The Huffington Post 

“Corrosively funny. . . . At a time at which there seems to be plenty for creative women to be angry about, Nora’s rant feels refreshing.”— Vogue

“Engrossing. . . . Think of [Nora] as the woman who leans out: the A student who puts others’ needs first. . . . Through the ensuing drama, which includes one of the more shocking betrayals in recent fiction, Messud raises questions about women’s still-circumscribed roles and the price of success.” —People (A People’s Pick)

“A supremely well-crafted page-turner with a shocker of an ending.” —The Boston Globe

“[Messud has] a literary critic’s knack for marshaling and reverberating themes and, most crucially, a broad and deep empathy. . . . The Woman Upstairs is first-rate: It asks unsettling, unanswerable questions.” —The Denver Post

 “Brilliant. . . . Messud’s cosmopolitan sensibilities infuse her fiction with a refreshing cultural fluidity. . . . The Woman Upstairs brims with energy and ideas.” —NPR

“[Messud] knows how to make fiction out of the clash of civilizations. Her heroines . . . inhabit the inky space between continents, physical and generational. . . . The Woman Upstairs is not a pretty read, but that is precisely what makes it so hard to put down.” —The Economist 

“[Here] are tart meditations on the creative impulse and the artistic ego, on the interplay between reality and fantasy and the often-pitiful limits of human communication. . . . Smoldering.” —Bloomberg Businessweek

“Spellbinding, psychologically acute. . . . How much of Nora’s fantasy is true . . . is the real subject of Messud’s novel. . . . Exquisitely rendered.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Hypnotic. . . . In Nora, Messud has conjured a self-contradictory yet acutely familiar character; we’ve all met someone like her, if we aren’t like her ourselves. . . . Nora does not become monstrous or pathological or even absurd. This, in a way, is her tragedy.” —Salon

“Messud is a tremendously smart, accomplished writer. . . . What the novel does, in spades, is give a voiceless woman a chance to howl.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“Bracing. . . . In this fierce, feminist novel, the reader serves as Nora’s confessor, and it’s a pleasurable job to listen to someone so eloquent, whose insights about how women are valued in society and art are sharp and righteous.” —Dallas News 

“A trenchant exploration into the mercenary nature of artistic creation. . . . Destined to become a cultural benchmark.” —The Wall Street Journal

The Barnes & Noble Review

Claire Messud's fourth novel, The Woman Upstairs, puts the reader into the hands of Nora Eldridge, who happens to be in one hell of a bad mood: "How angry am I? You don't want to know," she warns us. Forty-two years old and single, she represents a stock figure in society, condescended to and pitied — when noticed: "We're the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound. In our lives of quiet desperation, the woman upstairs is who we are, with or without a goddamn tabby or a pesky lolloping Labrador, and not a soul registers that we're furious." Oh dear, thinks this reader — who has read her share of angry books — is this going to be a 250-page harangue?

It isn't. Nora pulls herself together and gives us a tale that I simply cannot get out of my mind. Not because of the final blow dealt to her, which is a real stunner, but because of the chilly precision with which her creator, Messud, draws Nora's complicity in her own sorry predicament and artfully conveys its insidiousness.

Nora, an artist manqué, teaches third grade in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Five years ago a new student appeared in her class, Reza Shadid, son of a Lebanese academic, Skandar, and an Italian artist, Sirena. The family has come from Paris for the school year while Skandar takes up an academic fellowship and Sirena works on a complicated piece of installation art for an exhibition to be mounted in Paris the next year. Nora is smitten with little Reza, a beautiful, gentle soul who, however, becomes the victim of two older, cloddish boys who call him a terrorist. That ugly incident draws Nora into the Shadid family's ambit. Soon she is sharing a studio (and its cost) with Sirena, babysitting Reza while his parents pursue their various engagements, and taking long, circuitous walks afterward from the Shadid home to her own with Skandar.

Motivated by the studio and the company of another artist, Nora resumes her own work, the construction of painstakingly accurate dioramas. She plans a series of miniature recreations of the sequestering rooms of Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and Alice Neel. To finish it off on another note, she will recreate Edie Sedgwick's room at The Factory. Picked out in meticulous detail and complete with solitary, isolate occupant, each space is — or will be — supplied with a minuscule, scarcely noticeable amulet called Joy.

There is much to ponder in Nora's choosing to create these tiny arenas for a vicarious life, habitats that draw people to peer in and contemplate the person inside. Nora craves proper notice, but other elements in her life also resonate with this closed-in art, literally so in the fate of her mother, often reflected upon, who died slowly, increasingly paralyzed, from a neurodegenerative disease. The two other family members we meet are very models of New England costivenesss: her father, whose time is spent doing not much, napping, and waiting for Nora to phone or show up, and her mother's sister, Aunt Baby, so called because of her essential innocence, whose life has been lived in thankless doting on the children of others. Both are "mild septuagenarians not even given to sentimental reminiscence, stultifyingly locked in their present of small ailments, the weather, the television news, which news was full of nothing."

Nora herself begins to live her life through the Shadids, falling in love with each one of them, feeling enlarged and vital, as if she's broken through to reality. She increasingly neglects her own work in the studio to help the other woman put together her installation, a construction called Wonderland, tiresome to me in its conceits, but certainly believable and ideal as the mise-en-scène for the book's most unfortunate episode. Messud brings us deeply into Nora's mind, and we take in with dismay the two older Shadids' casual slights and presumptions and Nora's rationalization of each situation.

To an extent, Nora's failure as an artist or, indeed, as a fulfilled person, has been and remains a failure of will, not just in failing to keep her eye on the ball — though there is certainly that — but in failing to turn her back on apparent obligations, to her parents' wishes, and later, to nursing her mother through her final years. Now in her rage, she sees she was under the impression that if she did whatever life called on her to do, that doing it, or despite doing it — rewards and obstacles tend to fuse in this outlook — she would end up where she wanted to be. This is not uniquely, but still dominantly, a woman's predicament: "Men have figured out how to spawn children and leave them to others to raise, how to placate their mothers with a mere phone call from afar, how to insist, as calmly as if insisting that the sun is in the sky, as if any other possibility were madness, that their work, of all things, is what must — and must first — be done. Such a strength has, in its youthful vision, no dogs or gardens or picnics, no children, no sky: it is focused only on one thing, whether it's on money, or on power, or on a paintbrush and a canvas. It's a failure of vision, in fact, anyone with half a brain can see that. It's myopia. But that's what it takes. You need to see everything else — everyone else — as expendable, as less than yourself."

Art is, after all, having your own way; and Sirena possesses the necessary unconsciousness of what might be called decency to have it, to make it in every sense. Neither she nor her husband are bad people — well, not exactly, though each is guilty of a serious transgression; but chiefly, and in the end, devastatingly, they are simply not what Nora wants them to be where she is concerned: "[S]ometimes I'd picture the three of us, installed in a farmhouse in Vermont, or in Tuscany, or in a thatched bungalow on a Caribbean island, in order that we might live cheaply enough to make art?. I knew the layouts of these various houses, the unfolding of their rooms. I built them in my mind, and we inhabited each of them at different times."

Nora's tropism towards helping and her fantasy of belonging dovetail disastrously with the Shadids' matter-of-fact pursuit of their own aims. Messud is astonishingly deft in getting across the complex nature of the situation, holding consciousness and obliviousness, neediness and taking, virtue and trespass in a state of dynamic fluidity. She has also pulled off the very difficult feat of combining literary allusion and thematic recurrence with what is real in the world: human particularity. This is the sort of novel one would like to sit down and discuss for hours, and I am sure that that is just what will happen, ardently and disputatiously, across the land.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. She is the editor of Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942–1963.

Reviewer: Katherine A. Powers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307596901
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 37,154
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Claire Messud

CLAIRE MESSUD's latest 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 finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award; her second novel, The Last Life, was a PW Best Book of the Year and Editor's Choice at The Village Voice. All four books were New York Times Notables. She has received Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Biography

Claire Messud was educated at Cambridge and Yale. Her novels, When the World Was Steady and The Hunters were both finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award; her second novel, The Last Life, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and Editor's Choice at The Village Voice. All three of her books were New York Times Notable Books of the Year. She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Radcliffe Fellowship, and is the current recipient of the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.
Author biography courtesy of Random House

Good To Know

1. As a child in Australia, I wore a school uniform that included a hat on my head and the color of my underpants. If you had long hair, you had to wear it up, with grey ribbons. You weren't allowed to take your hat off in public, or to eat in public in uniform. It all sounds very draconian, but I loved it. I think my abiding interest in knowing rules, and breaking them, comes from those early days. I'm a big believer in rules - like grammar, for example. If you know the rules of grammar, it's fine to break them. If you don't know the rules, and break them by mistake, people can usually tell...
2. We have, in our family, a dachshund named Myshkin. She's middle aged, short-haired, red and a little portly, but very delicious, with soulful eyes. It may not seem kind to have named her after Prince Myshkin, the protagonist of Dostoevksy's THE IDIOT; but she's an idiot in the best possible sense: an innocent. There's no guile in her. That said, she's spectacularly greedy, and only last night grabbed a piece of sushi off my husband's plate when he wasn't looking. When I was a child, we had two dachshunds, uncle and nephew, named Big and Small. They were quite particular and temperamental, which I thought was great. When we were looking for a dog, I persuaded my reluctant husband that we should have a dachshund by pointing out that as a breed, they were crabby and discriminating - as well as animals which, on account of their physiques, have a strong understanding of the absurdity of life. As it turned out, Myshkin is a complete pushover, as undiscriminating as they come, and stops and wags her tail for strangers in the street.
3. I don't keep a diary. I believe, in principle, that one should; but after re-reading 10 year old entries in horror, and discovering that my reflections and preoccupations had changed not at all in the course of my entire adult life, I gave up writing any of it down about ten years ago. Now, like my grandfather before me, I'm more likely to note what I had for dinner or what the weather was like in the margins of my date-book than I am to spill forth my innermost thoughts. I'm not sure, at this point, that I have any innermost thoughts.
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    1. Hometown:
      Somerville, MA, USA
    1. Education:
      BA in Comparative Literature, Yale University, 1987, MA in English Literature, Jesus College, Cambridge University, 1989

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
 
How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.
 
I’m a good girl, I’m a nice girl, I’m a straight- A, strait- laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody’s boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents’ shit and my brother’s shit, and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty fucking years old, and I’m good at my job and I’m great with kids and I held my mother’s hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father every day on the telephone— every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it’s pretty gray and a bit muggy too? 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 grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.
 
Don’t all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury. We’re all furies, except the ones who are too damned foolish, and my worry now is that we’re brainwashing them from the cradle, and in the end even the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish. What do I mean? I mean the second graders at Appleton Elementary, sometimes the first graders even, and by the time they get to my classroom, to the third grade, they’re well and truly gone—they’re full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and cute outfits and they care how their hair looks! In the third grade. They care more about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics. How did all that revolutionary talk of the seventies land us in a place where being female means playing dumb and looking good? Even worse on your tombstone than “dutiful daughter” is “looked good”; everyone used to know that. But we’re lost in a world of appearances now.
 
That’s why I’m so angry, really—not because of all the chores and all the making nice and all the duty of being a woman—or rather, of being me—because maybe these are the burdens of being human. Really I’m angry because I’ve tried so hard to get out of the hall of mirrors, this sham and pretend of the world, or of my world, on the East Coast of the United States of America in the first decade of the twenty- first century. And behind every mirror is another fucking mirror, and down every corridor is another corridor, and the Fun House isn’t fun anymore and it isn’t even funny, but there doesn’t seem to be a door marked EXIT.
 
At the fair each summer when I was a kid, we visited the Fun House, with its creepy grinning plaster face, two stories high. You walked in through its mouth, between its giant teeth, along its hot-pink tongue. Just from that face, you should’ve known. It was supposed to be a lark, but it was terrifying. The floors buckled or they lurched from side to side, and the walls were crooked, and the rooms were painted to confuse perspective. Lights flashed, horns blared, in the narrow, vibrating hallways lined with fattening mirrors and elongating mirrors and inside- out upside- down mirrors. Sometimes the ceiling fell or the floor rose, or both happened at once and I thought I’d be squashed like a bug. The Fun House was scarier by far than the Haunted House, not least because I was supposed to enjoy it. I just wanted to find the way out. But the doors marked EXIT led only to further crazy rooms, to endless moving corridors. There was one route through the Fun House, relentless to the very end.
 
I’ve finally come to understand that life itself is the Fun House. All you want is that door marked EXIT, the escape to a place where Real Life will be; and you can never find it. No: let me correct that. In recent years, there was a door, there were doors, and I took them and I believed in them, and I believed for a stretch that I’d managed to get out into Reality—and God, the bliss and terror of that, the intensity of that: it felt so different—until I suddenly realized I’d been stuck in the Fun House all along. I’d been tricked. The door marked EXIT hadn’t been an exit at all.

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Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of best-selling author Claire Messud’s brilliant new novel, The Woman Upstairs.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 42 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(10)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(13)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This is a book that made me ponder about the things that are imp

    This is a book that made me ponder about the things that are important. Nora is a character that you can relate to (even if you don't have a budding artist inside you). 
    The themes are contemporary, but not cliched. The writing is amazing. Not sure what the one reviewer meant about pedantic--because it is exactly the opposite of that. 
    So sad to see this book with a 3 stars because of it. I'm a librarian and I know what I'm talking about. 

    17 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2013

     This is a depressing tale of a disturbed middle aged woman who

     This is a depressing tale of a disturbed middle aged woman who whines.The  tempo is like wading through mud and as she slogs
    along she brings up her mothers death in almost every chapter and you want to shake her out of her past.It is a tedious book that cries out
    ."let it end".Forget it.
    l

    l

    8 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Very engaging

    Funny, angry, intense---riveting!
    And with a most natural-sounding writing style. The sentences flow like sweet water.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    Thought provoking

    This book was not intended to be "entertaining". Those who thought so missed the point. It was a character study of the type of person we all know, funtioning moderately well on the outside but filed with regret and both saddness and anger on the inside. It is about relationships, hope, trust, betrayal and striving versus resignation. It may be adowner but is very powerful and may cause one to reexamine his/her own relationships and goals. For those who want to read something of substance about the human conditon, this an excellent read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2013

    A good read but not as good as I had hoped

    I'm not sure if I would recommend this book to my friends or not. It is a book that will capture your attention with her anger in the beginning of the book. However the woman I met in the beginning of the book was not at all the woman who remained throughout the telling of her story. Her anger didn't strike a balance with the ending. I really did think we were reading about two very different people.

    Now that I'm sitting here thinking about a book that I read maybe a month ago I am finding some other things that didn't add up with the character the author introduced us to.

    It is not a bad read but it isn't a great read. I kept looking for that woman to return. Even as the book ended I waited for that woman. She was something special.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 1, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Why the great reviews?

    I want to feel--FEEL--when I am reading a novel. I am prepared to dislike a character (Olive Kitteridge, anyone?) and still love the book. The Woman Upstairs told me a great deal about what Nora was feeling, but never did I join her in that process of emotion. Funny, because I can totally relate to the love the character would have for all three of the Shahids. And betrayal? After attaching her "reason to live" to these people, Nora betrayed herself over and over again. Not a message inspiring the reader to live for herself, follow her own passion, be proud--at whatever age, stage in life we are.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    Don't waste you time or money!

    This is most definitely the worst book I have ever read...and I read a lot! Boring, senseless, pointless, weird, the list could go on and on. Do yourself a favor and don't bother reading it! I would have given it "zero stars" had I been able to, but I had t ok give it at least one star to print this WARNING LABEL! ;)

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2013

    Forget It

    I read a lot and it took so much control for me not to just throw this book away. I kept waiting for it to get better it never did. Waste of money

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    Amazing psychological narrative!

    I thought this book captured so many emotions from disturbing to humorous. Rarely is an author able to probe the depths of a character's psyche in the way Massud accomplishes with Nora. A truly well told tale spun from the innermost thoughts of a middle-aged woman seeking to find meaning in her life. Excellent read. I cannot understand the negative reviews, as I was totally mesmerized!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2013

    The most painfully irritating book I have ever read

    If annoying the reader is the goal of a good author, then this book should be elible for a Nobel prize. I have never reviewed a book, have never been so compelled to do so. The main character hates her past, hates herself, hates the world, has weird political views, hates America, hates her colleagues, hates her family, and on and on - she just hates and wants her hate to be exposed and heard. If reading about someone's hate and anger is entertaining to you, then by all means, read this book. For me, life is too short, and such ugliness and narcissism is frustrating. Who cares what this character thinks? I am happy for Mama Librarian that this was a literary work of art, but for those of us who like to be entertained when we read (and also know what we are talking about), and not engage in a psychological study of a mundane, yet hideous and narcissistic lunatic, then this book is a waste of time.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    This book was awful, plain and simple.  Boring, mundane, and abs

    This book was awful, plain and simple.  Boring, mundane, and absolutely mind numbing story that ultimately went absolutely nowhere.  You suffer through this long, tedious, overly drawn out story told in the first person by one of the single worst literary characters ever written.  You go through all of that knowing that this story must be going somewhere and it never does.  The so called climax comes in the very last chapter and is completely lackluster at best.  This book is definitely in the top five worst I have ever had the displeasure of reading .  My recommendation is to not waste the time or the money, it is not worth either.  

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2013

    Could be the worst book I've ever read

    If you have lived in a box your whole life and have never had contact with another human then maybe you might find.something interesting.in this book. The biggest waste of my time EVER! All the positive editorial reviews have me stumped. Did the author have something on all these people that could ruin their lives unless they gave this piece of crap a good review? Seems possible. Do not waste your time! Go stare at a wall for a day or two, it would be more interesting than reading The Woman Upstairs

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    I'd pass on this book

    Did not care for this book. Neither the characters or the storyline were interesting. Read this for my book club and I was glad when I was done.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2013

    Ugh!!! Awful!!!

    80 pages in and nothing interesting happened to hold my interest What a waste of 80 pages AND my time :(

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2013

    One of the worst books I ever (tried) to read. Awful.

    One of the worst books I ever (tried) to read. Awful.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2013

    Didn'a pedantic writing style

    Didn'a pedantic writing style

    1 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2014

    To kat

    So lets have sex you start....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2014

    Boring, depressing, and overwhelmingly deary, with a completely

    Boring, depressing, and overwhelmingly deary, with a completely unlikable main character. If this book were a color, it would be black. Do not bother with this one..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    Not a book I would recommend

    Story is much different than I expected. Introspection was laborious and boring so lost interest.

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  • Posted November 22, 2013

    Great character portrayal

    Messud's Nora Eldridge is creep and obsessive yet probably relatable to some readers. Readers who like their books a little dark and messy will appreciate this novel. Book groups will argue over whether Nora is unlikeable, fascinating, or both.

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