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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Woman Scorned
Nora Eldridge, the heroine of Claire Messud's latest novel, narrates her own story in this unsettling tale. Nora is 42 years old and lives alone in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is a dutiful daughter, a reliable friend, a good elementary school teacher, and a part-time artist who laments the fact that she has always lacked the courage and opportunity to become a full-time...
Published 10 months ago by Susie B

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The small suffering of humanity
I bought this book after reading that author Claire Messud slammed critics for expecting her to write characters that are sympathetic. I agree with her -- I'm fascinated by the dark secrets we all hold inside us, our least likable traits we hide from the world. Messud's protagonist Nora Eldridge is teeming with frustration, but her closest friends and family never know...
Published 6 months ago by I LOVE LITERATURE


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The small suffering of humanity, 14 Oct 2013
This review is from: The Woman Upstairs (Hardcover)
I bought this book after reading that author Claire Messud slammed critics for expecting her to write characters that are sympathetic. I agree with her -- I'm fascinated by the dark secrets we all hold inside us, our least likable traits we hide from the world. Messud's protagonist Nora Eldridge is teeming with frustration, but her closest friends and family never know it. She becomes obsessed with her friend who has the two things she wants most: A child and a career as an artist. Messud digs deep to conjure up an entirely believable interior world for Nora. Reading this book was like delving into someone's private diary -- filled with wicked thoughts and small daily sufferings, the "bad thoughts" we've all quietly had. However, halfway through the book, I felt like it had all been said -- and Nora started to bore me by repeating the same frustrations over and over. There's not much of a plot to keep you interested, but I stuck with it hoping for the big "reveal." The climax, when it came, was shocking, but it wasn't enough to make this book entirely fulfilling. For creating a believable, interesting character and expressing the internal longings of humanity, Messud deserves huge praise; but as a story, this is one meal that didn't entirely satisfy.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Woman Scorned, 27 May 2013
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Woman Upstairs (Hardcover)
Nora Eldridge, the heroine of Claire Messud's latest novel, narrates her own story in this unsettling tale. Nora is 42 years old and lives alone in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is a dutiful daughter, a reliable friend, a good elementary school teacher, and a part-time artist who laments the fact that she has always lacked the courage and opportunity to become a full-time artist. Nora is, she tells us, the Woman Upstairs: " The quiet woman at the end of the third floor hallway who never makes a sound... who, in our lives of quiet desperation, not a soul notices we are furious." And Nora is absolutely fuming.

To explain why she is so angry, Nora moves her story to five years earlier, where we learn how she becomes friendly with the Shahid family, when eight-year-old Reza, a beautiful, angelic-looking child, joins her third grade class. Reza's mother, Sirena, is a sophisticated Italian installation artist; his father, Skandar, is an academic of Lebanese origin, and they have both come from Paris, with Reza, to America for one year as Skandar has a fellowship at Harvard. When Sirena learns that Nora is a fellow artist, she invites her to share the rent on a large studio where Sirena plans to create a new piece of installation art - a project that could bring her the success she has been working towards. Nora, beguiled by the beautiful and worldly Sirena, becomes totally infatuated, not just with Sirena, but with Skandar and Reza too, spending time at the Shahid home babysitting for Reza and working long hours in the studio alongside Sirena. While Sirena works on a huge piece of installation art, Nora, in contrast, creates miniature replicas of the rooms of female artists and writers, such as: Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Alice Neel and Edie Sedgwick. And, as the two women spend more of their time together, Nora feels her life to be entirely transformed - but, as we know from the outset of her story, Nora is in for a very nasty shock.

This novel with its first-person narration, pulls the reader right into Nora's life and into her inner thoughts and imaginings. Slightly reminiscent of Zoe Heller's 'Notes on a Scandal' and with some indirect references to Ibsen's 'A Doll's House', I found this an intelligent and well-written novel, with a sense of unease running throughout the story; however, I do have to say that I did not really care for any of the main characters in the story and, although I had some sympathy for Nora, I found myself becoming rather exasperated with her for her gullibility - but I can' t explain further for fear of including spoilers. That said, the quality of Claire Messud's writing is exceptionally good and her narrative, in many parts, was rather gripping to read. Also, I very much enjoyed the author's descriptions of the high ceilinged, light-filled, L-shaped studio rented by Sirena and Nora and I especially enjoyed her descriptions of the pieces of art the two women created. So, all in all, an entertaining, interesting and absorbing, if perhaps not entirely satisfying read; but I should mention that if you like your stories to be peopled with likeable characters who behave well, then this rather unsettling story may not be quite to your taste. Either way, the ending of this tale is likely to make you feel rather uncomfortable and leave you wondering about the possible repercussions for some time after you have turned the last page.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What a disappointment!, 1 Mar 2014
By 
J. Statham - See all my reviews
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I’d been told that Ms Messud was a wonderful writer, and indeed, she has great descriptive powers and a spot-on turn of phrase. However, those qualities weren’t enough to stop me speed-reading the last half of this novel. The narrator is probably the most boring voice I’ve ever encountered. I don’t want to spoil the ending ‘surprise’ (although it’s pretty easy to guess), but wasn’t it obvious that the only interesting, spontaneous thing this woman does in the book (and the only briefly interesting section of it) would be ripped off by her flaky friend? She’d had enough warning! Inevitably, what the narrator has ‘learned’ at the end of the novel is neither surprising nor – to me – interesting. Yes, I now know why she’s angry, but I don’t care. The novel has done me a service in one respect, though: I can’t wait to read a good biography of Edie Sedgwick.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writing, 29 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Woman Upstairs (Paperback)
A relief to discover a novel which doesn’t resort to gimmicks to paper over a lack of literary merit (or as a marketing tool). Described as a book about rage, it’s about so much more, skilfully, superbly written with the bonus of an author who's had a pop at the modern, mediocre desire for ‘sympathetic’ characters. Strongly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I made myself finish it, 2 Mar 2014
By 
Brida "izumi" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Woman Upstairs (Hardcover)
I really struggled with THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS. The novel is narrated by Nora, a woman in her late thirties who teaches at a primary school. Nora is the woman upstairs - a single woman who, in her own words, would be seen to be in her spinsterhood. At the beginning of the novel, she tells us that she is angry, but she is not the sort of person to really show it. From the synopsis the reader comes to the book expecting her to experience some kind of betrayal; Nora is telling us about how she makes friends with one particular small family. This family has her in its thrall; she feels motherly to the young boy, she seems to admire and want to be like the mother and she is attracted to the husband. So, it is not hard to guess that the betrayal revolves around these people. What I struggled with is that there was remarkably little that actually happened throughout this 300 page novel. I don't want to give away the 'climax' of the novel but I won't give anything away by saying that it is very poor.
This was one book which made me think at the end of it, why did I bother?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars dull, 10 Feb 2014
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I kept reading to see what the betrayal would be ( I guessed it well before the end anyway and wanted to see if my hunch was correct ) but I skimmed most of the book. Yes it made a change to frothy chick lit and the usual twee two dimensional characters in that none of the characters here were at all likeable. The main character annoyed me by being a complete walkover, she seemed angry and I felt she really needed to get a life of her own rather than attach herself to that of others. I also found her doting on the child a bit weird and unsettling. In short, it made me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps that was the intention?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars masterful story telling retaining degree of suspense to the end, 13 July 2013
Unusually for me, I immediately re-read this book as soon as I had first read it. It is rich and dense in 'clues' throughout and retains an element of suspense until the end. Although if is not a traditional mystery tale, it is very uncertain as to what will happen at the end. For a while, it seems that she may take the easy way out and end it very messily but, thankfully she avoids this.

whilst it does have a shocking end, it is psychological rather than violent and is also srangely uplifting

I'm stiil thinking hard about it a few days after the second read and trying to sort out the tangled web of relationships and work out who caused what and where 'fault' really lay and what it reaally means to be an artist as well as lots of other issues.

None of the protagonists are especiaally attractive or generate much empathy but this only makes the unfolding of the story all the more compelling as it makes it hard to 'take sides'

truly thought-provoking and rewarding read
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.', 6 Sep 2013
By 
purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Woman Upstairs (Hardcover)
is the opening line of this novel. Nora Eldridge starts the novel with a glorious full-on rant. She's the 'good girl', the 'straight-A, strait laced, good daughter,' who did all the right things and yet didn't get the just rewards and who now recognises herself as a middle aged fury. The reason for her anger is both general - 'all the making nice and all the duty of being a woman' - and specific. The second chapter leads off 'It started with the boy. With Reza' and the love story starts - because Nora falls in love with a whole family; the long lashed boy, his mother, Sirena, the rising artist and his father, the academic. We know from the excoriating first chapter that things will not end well, that there will be betrayal but Messud is a good writer and seduces us with the exotica of the family just as Nora herself is seduced.

I was very impressed with Messud's best known book The Emperor's Children, which sent me back to her earlier novels and novellas. I think she is an excellent writer and capable of both the large and small scale. Emperor's Children was broader sweep and dealt with three glittering New Yorkers at the turn of the century pre and post 9/11. This novel focuses on Nora's interior life (I saw her speak at my local book shop and she said that she had wanted to explore that in a novel) and gives some insight into the life of an artist. Nora makes dioramas of writers' rooms, exquisite and tiny but unseen by the public. She finds herself increasingly drawn into supporting Sirena's ambitious installations and helping her flowering worldly success.

There has been some nonsense criticism of this novel not having a likeable protagonist which Messud defended robustly. I did find Nora solipsistic and seemingly unaware of the reciprocal nature of the betrayals in the novel. However, I don't need to find a character likeable to be fully engaged, which I was throughout the novel. I found Messud's twist at the end somewhat of an anti climax but enjoyed the ride.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious and at times boring, 21 Aug 2013
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Pretentious and boring. Although the twist at the end was a good one. I couldn't' get what the author was trying to prove or tell.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing shaggy dog story, 10 July 2013
By 
Neasa MacErlean (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Woman Upstairs (Hardcover)
This book is now famous for its beginning: "How angry am I? You don't want to know." And then the narrator (who is the woman upstairs), 37-year old teacher Nora, tells you the long story of her anger. She got gradually angrier in her normal life - as she felt dismissed to the sidelines (upstairs) as a modern-day spinster. And then she ends up even more cheesed off as she recounts in the main plot line of the piece - about a family she meets and falls in love with. Yesterday, I heard the author, Claire Messud, interviewed on anger on the Radio 4 programme "Woman's Hour" and I bought the book because it was recommended in the Financial Times. So she is becoming something of an icon of our times in the anger world. I must be missing something as I found the tome rather obvious and tedious. And, although she did become ever-angrier, she did not really vent her anger. There are lots of descriptions of her art studio and her relationship with the family. So if you like long, slow descriptions and less of a punchy plot then maybe this is for you.
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The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (Paperback - 2 Jan 2014)
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