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The Woman Upstairs

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  31,328 ratings  ·  3,748 reviews
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
Hardcover, 253 pages
Published April 28th 2013 by A. A. Knopf
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Liana Merriam I'm not sure about Nora confronting Sirena, but I did feel like the book ended very quickly after the art exhibit. The whole book is this long, simmer…moreI'm not sure about Nora confronting Sirena, but I did feel like the book ended very quickly after the art exhibit. The whole book is this long, simmering build-up of unhappiness, that just a few paragraphs of "I'm really angry now, off to go live my life" felt really rushed. (less)
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Apr 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Woman Upstairs is an occasion to reawaken a literary hot button that I love: the unlikeable character. Plenty of people hated The Emperor’s Children for the same reason they hated The Corrections: couldn’t relate to/sympathize with the characters, wouldn’t want to be friends with them, etc. In a Publishers Weekly interview, Messud was asked about Nora, her dutiful but rage-filled, 40-something schoolteacher/wannabe artist whose life is reawakened but then betrayed by a charismatic expat and ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Hmmm. Lots of thoughts. There is brilliance here, in how Messud takes up anger, hunger, and loneliness. There are many problems here, like, THERE IS NO PLOT. This is the kind of book that makes people hate literary fiction. My biggest issue though, is that so much of the prose is... aimless and not in a compelling way . Also, 37, in Cambridge, is NOT THE END OF THE LINE. That is not middle-aged. In a city like Cambridge, 37 is when many women might think, "Maybe I'll settle down and have some ki ...more
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, audio
If you're interested in a book with unlikeable, unreliable characters, hints of possible drama, obsession, and betrayal, melancholy and whining, endless run-on narrative from the main character, a plot that bogs down completely, and a rushed ending, then have I got the book for you! I decided to read The Woman Upstairs after hearing an interview with Claire Messud on NPR; the book was touted as a "saga of anger and thwarted ambition". While there was plenty of anger, I couldn't find the ambition ...more
reading is my hustle
This is a rancorous read about lost opportunities.
The narrator is bursting with rage.
Uncomfortable. Corrosive. Urgent.

But the writing.
Oh, the writing.
Masterly and picture-perfect.

And the ending?


Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Did I find this book or did this book find me?

Either way, this novel was so powerful and jarring that it jumbled my thoughts and disrupted my sleep. The story is focused on the anger and anxiety — hell, let's just call it a mid-life crisis blended with some good ol' feminist rage — of Nora Eldridge, a single woman who teaches elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and who wishes she had more time to be an artist. One day, she meets a boy named Reza, and she becomes so attached to him and
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Annasue McCleave Wilson from Publishers Weekly:
"I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim."

Claire Messud:
"For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynch
Debbie "DJ"
Oct 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really wanted to read this book as it provoked a stir in the media about the "likability" factor of a character. That, coupled with a friends urging, lead me right up the stairs. This book seems to be one that produces so many different reactions by different readers. For me, I was hooked right away, and couldn't put it down.

It actually disturbs me that the question of whether or not Nora (the main character) is likable or not was even brought up. I found her fascinating, and the thought of wh
The book title is fantastic; just those few words create an image of someone lonely. Who would want to be the woman upstairs? Not me, that’s for sure.

Nora, the sad schoolteacher who narrates this story, doesn’t want to be the woman upstairs either. But she can’t change her M.O. no matter how hard she tries. Nora equates the woman upstairs with mediocrity, and mediocrity implies a lack of adventure, a lack of success, and a lack of passion. She hopes she is finally breaking out of the mold when
Dec 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: The dissatisfied woman within you
Shelves: read-in-2016
Nora Eldridge is a primary school teacher who at forty-two has sacrificed her dream to become an artist to live in the numbing comfort of economic stability and independence, a woman who perfectly fits the role attached to her gender: dutiful daughter, involved professional, reliable friend, model citizen.
But she is also the woman upstairs, the person everybody forgets the moment she turns around the corner, the agreeable teacher who dotes on her students because she doesn’t have children of her
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud is a 2013 Knopf publication.

I checked out this book after looking through a ‘Booklist’ with listed books centered around betrayal and obsession. I’d never heard of it, but it sounded intriguing.

The story starts off with Nora Eldridge meeting a new student in her class, which puts her in touch with the boy’s mother, Sirena. The two women discover they share a passion for art and become very good friends, even renting a studio together.

But, Nora has just lost
Jun 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Lots of women don’t like the main character of this book. They see her as pathetic. This is a common view of the “smugly married." It's easy to look down your nose at the main character if you have all the adornments of female success, the most important of which is that someone has found you sexually desirable enough to marry you. And once you have children, the deal is sealed. You are woman, hear you roar!

Nora is a 37-year-old school teacher whose mother who truly loved her is dead and whose a
Claire Messud's piece does not end like it begins. Perhaps that's a good thing, for most books. We want to see stories change, characters learn things, events take us from one place to another, and so I did and do with this book. But the first part was deceptive.

Messud sets up this book to be about an angry third-grade school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts who started her life meaning to be an artist, and ended up, through the force of her mother's example, financial timidity, and, eventual
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
At the age of thirty-seven she realized she'd never
Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair.
So she let the phone keep ringing and she sat there softly singing
Little nursery rhymes she'd memorized in her daddy's easy chair.

The woman upstairs is reliable, organized, and never causes any trouble. Even her trash is always tidy.

Nora Eldridge has lived her life as a "woman upstairs." She's a popular third grade teacher. She gets children. She has come to realize that her lif
May 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
The Woman Upstairs seems truly one of those books that mood dictates its reading as well as its liking. My first start found it wanting so I dropped it for something more fast paced. But like a bur it kept pricking me to pick it up. Then the 2013 awards started rolling in. In addition it seemed to be a favorite of many of my GoodReads friends. So pick it up I did.

The Woman Upstairs hurled me to the floor with its bleakness, wrenched my heart with such despair, yet somehow left me hopeful, hopefu
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: public-library
Nora Eldridge, 37, second grade school teacher, is the woman upstairs. 'She's reliable, and organized, and she doesn't cause any trouble.' In reality, she is a frustrated artist, unmarried and unwanted, living a life of quiet desperation. Smiling on the outside, screaming on the inside, Nora struggles to tamp down the rising anger of missing out on what should have been her life.

An incident at school involving one of her young students puts Nora in close touch with the boy's parents. She becom
37 year-old Nora Eldridge is one strange woman. As a lonely and unsatisfied school teacher with artistic ambitions, she befriends the parents of one of her young students and ends up obsessed with them. While she neglects her elderly father and forgets scheduled commitments at school, she succumbs to the needs of her so called new friends whom she now "loves" (in various ways) and desperately devotes all her free time; and the ending, well, not a surprise.

I struggled through the better part of t

Nadosia Grey
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book was totally different from what I imagined it to be. The writing constantly threw me off. This book is the epitome of run on sentences. I think there needs to be smaller sentences with more meaning. Stringing sentences together with semicolons does not emphasize a point better. I thought I could get over this type of writing style—if you’d call it that—but I never really did.
Sadly though, not even a reworking of the writing style could save this book. The story is amazingly bland. Wom
Ron Charles
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-favorites
Here’s a little video I made about this book:

For practical advice about how women can thrive and control their destinies, check out “Lean In” by Facebook’s ever-gracious COO, Sheryl Sandberg.

But maybe after a hard day of believing in yourself and using “we” words, you just want to luxuriate in a fire of cleansing rage. Go ahead: Push the billionaire’s affirmations aside and listen instead to the she-devil in Claire Messud’s ferocious new novel. Lean in —
When is a book a piece of art, or a literary masterpiece without art as part of the equation, or just a novel?

This book is not really the story of a lonely, 42-year-old single school teacher in Cambridge Massachussets. Nora Eldridge is the protagonist who by cheer coincidence is challenged to start living, work on her ambition to be an artist, and break away from the monotonous routine with which she meandered though life, with an almost emotional sterile reserve against the onslaught of life wh
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Teresa by: Cynthia
In the beginning I experienced a couple of jolts, first being reminded of Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal because Nora the narrator is a teacher, and an artist, and obsessed with another woman (along with that woman's child and husband); and then of Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved, because of the miniature rooms that Nora makes. The Neil LaBute film The Shape of Things also came to mind. All about the nature of art, all about obsession of many kinds.

Maybe because I was remin
I don't appreciate art well enough. I don't appreciate literary fiction well enough. I'm all for a quick fix! Review to come later on :)

Oh yea.. forgot I say bloody glad for it to end!


I decided to leave this preview prequel here.. kind of says what I was thinking at the time. I had forgotten to review and read this a month ago.

This is good serious literary fiction. Problem being, I don’t love the genre. I am surrounded by so many books both at work and at home that I continually keep pic
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
While I was reading this book a co-worker was celebrating his 30th birthday and a discussion ensued about those big birthays, 20, 30 etc. Then turning to me, who it so happens was the oldest person within earshot, they asked me which one I thought was the hardest. "40," I said, thinking to myself that I had not yet reached the big 6-0 which I anticipate will be excruciating. Not to mention 70 or 80. Then again, there was 40. Where had my youth gone? How did I fritter it away? What had I accompli ...more
Diane S ☔
Oct 22, 2012 rated it liked it
I am not sure what to make of this novel because I found much of it vaguely disturbing. Nora is the good girl, someone who one can count on, someone who has always tried to do the right thing, and she is our unreliable narrator. She has in her class the young son of a Lebanese father and a Italian mother, a mother who is an artist which is what Nora had aspired to become. She puts together small dioramas of famous rooms and people and feels in many ways that life has passed her by, a life that ...more
Nov 06, 2014 rated it liked it
This one bounced around in my head for a few days … three stars? No four stars! No…three stars. Maybe four stars? Ultimately I landed on 3.5 stars, rounding down to a very strong 3 STARS. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but I struggled mightily with the ending. Let me circle back to that a bit later.

I wonder if those who exude self-confidence when they walk into a room would be bored to death by this book. I wonder if those steeped in soaring self-esteem and dogged self-assuredness would scoff at
Doug Bradshaw
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
I loved reading this book. Claire Messud is a master at detailing inner thoughts and emotions and then the complexity of life and why we make some of the decisions we make. I thought of the countless single women (and men) who must live lives similar to Nora's where they have never ended up marrying or having a larger fuller life and yet have become part of other people's lives, maybe their students', their colleagues' or their friend's lives and so they feel they haven't really lived up to thei ...more
Oct 13, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People that liked Notes on a Scandal
3.5 stars

Nora Eldridge is a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is a people pleaser, a reliable friend, a devoted daughter who has given up on her dreams of being an artist, and lives a safe, routine, unexciting life.... Then one day a new student, Reza Shahid enters her classroom. Nora feels an instant connection with him and his parents- Skandar, a charming half-Muslim Professor of Ethical History, and Sirena, a glamorous and exotic Italian artist.

The begin
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels, fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A brilliant portrayal of quiet desperation. Beautifully written.
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Diabolical Charm

She doesn’t have a name. She doesn’t need one because she’s easily viewed as merely a category, the middle aged, quiet yet ever ready to be helpful spinster. You may not even notice she’s there unless you decide to accept her offer of help. Nora is a third grade teacher who falls in love with a student and in time with the student’s entire family of three. Nora isn’t just any elementary teacher, she’s an artist who decides to be practical, put her art dreams on hold in order to e
Aug 31, 2015 rated it liked it
Hmmm. I am the outlier once again as most of my friends loved this one and for me it was just okay. I love books that take place locally, especially those that reference real places but even that couldn't hold my interest. The writing, lyrical and lovely, elevated this from two stars to three stars but I found myself frequently bored with the story.
Though I found this to be painfully slow and quite dull, there is so much room for interpretation that it almost begs to be dissected, dismantled an
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Claire Messud is an American novelist and literature and creative writing professor. She is best known as the author of the 2006 novel The Emperor's Children. She lives with her husband and family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, Messud grew up in the United States, Australia, and Canada, returning to the United States as a teenager. Messud's mother is Canadian, and her

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