Saturday, October 12

Book Review: The Woman Upstairs

Title: The Woman Upstairs

Author: Claire Messud

Pages: 253

Summary: Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is on the verge of disappearing. Having abandoned her desire to be an artist, she has become the "woman upstairs," a reliable friend and tidy neighbour always on the fringe of others' achievements. Then into her classroom walks a new pupil, Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents--dashing Skandar, a half-Muslim Professor of Ethical History born in Beirut, and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist--have come to America for Skandar to teach at Harvard.

But one afternoon, Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who punch, push and call him a "terrorist," and Nora is quickly drawn deep into the complex world of the Shahid family. Soon she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora's happiness explodes her boundaries--until Sirena's own ambition leads to a shattering betrayal.

Written with intimacy and piercing emotion, this urgently dispatched story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill--and the devastating cost--of giving in to one's passions. The Woman Upstairs is a masterly story of America today, of being a woman and of the exhilarations of love.

My Rating: 5.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: The book started out strong for me, the first chapter hooked me instantly and I was excited to read the book. The main character and narrator, was introduced to the reader as a very anger bitter, hold nothing back person. I wanted to know what caused this. But, after that the book slowly fell apart for me and by the end I was no longer interested in the book, or its characters.

The whole premise of the book was off for me. I didn't exactly get Nora's obsession with the Shahid family and I didn't get where the author was trying to go with it. There didn't seem to be any build up to it, it almost felt like it came out of nowhere. I was unsure if the author was trying to show us that Nora, was a lonely woman who forced her way into the family and "friendship." That it was something she made up in her head, or if it was a genuine friendship and she was just a bit of an awkward person in social situations. Either way, I just didn't buy into the story and found I was bored with it. That bitter woman I met at the beginning wasn't there. A couple of times, I saw glimpses of her, but there was never really any hints of why until the very end. I'm unsure how I feel about the ending. I think by the time I got to the end, I was more focused on the book being done, than the actual content. I was bored of the characters and the plot by the time I got to it. And while what Nora faced in the end was bad, I didn't care about her enough to truly care.

Overall, it wasn't exactly a good book for me.

Would I recommend it to read: I'm not sure I would. Not exactly a book I would pick out and pick out and say read it.

What to read next: I'd take a look at the other Giller longlisted books

Challenges: 100 Books Challenge, 2013 Category Challenge, 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

This book is part of an ongoing read project on the blog to read all of the 2013 Giller Longlist book selections. Click Here for further details.


  1. I never had a chance to get bored with Nora: I just raced through this book. In many ways, I don't understand why there has been so much discussion about her anger. Yes, the rant that begins the book is immediately compelling, but as you've said, there's a lot of other substance to the book.

    1. Yes, you're right that was just one aspect to the book. But I wonder if some of the discussion regarding to her anger is that, it wasn't explored more? I haven't seen much about it. Maybe I should take another look at some other reviews.