Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Nora Eldridge is a reliable, but unremarkable, friend and neighbor, always on the fringe of other people’s achievements. But the arrival of the Shahid family — dashing Skandar, a Lebanese scholar, glamorous Sirena, an Italian artist, and their son, Reza — draws her into a complex and exciting new world. Nora’s happiness pushes her beyond her boundaries, until Sirena’s careless ambition leads to a shattering betrayal. Told with urgency, intimacy, and piercing emotion, this New York Times bestselling novel is the riveting confession of a woman awakened, transformed, and abandoned by a desire for a world beyond her own.“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
“Startling: a psychological and intellectual thriller.” Los Angeles Times
“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
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book • A Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year • A Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book • A Huffington Post Best Book • A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year • A Kirkus Best Fiction Book • A Goodreads Best Book
About the Author
Claire Messud’s 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.