Book Review – The Woman Upstairs


by Claire Messud (Virago) ISBN: 9781844087310

Nora Eldridge is angry. Very angry. And it is only in the last chapter that you fully understand the depth of the betrayal that caused her anger.

Nora is ‘the woman upstairs’; a third grade teacher, forty-two years old, single, a dutiful daughter, invisible. Her dreams of becoming an artist, having children and driving in an open car through Paris, are all stacked away in the drawer of her mind. Until the Shahid family arrives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They are foreign, beautiful and Nora is enchanted by them. She falls in love with each one of them: Sirena the Italian artist, with whom she shares a studio, Skandar, the history ethics professor from Lebanon, who has a fellowship for a year to write his book, and their son, Reza.

This is an excellent book. It is very well written, full of references to art and literature, completely honest and recognisable, and intriguing. Messud’s best-seller, The Emperor’s Children, was long listed for the Man Booker Price in 2006. The Woman Upstairs is her sixth novel. She is a storyteller of note and I can definitely recommend this book. You will not regret reading it.

Pauline Vijverberg
5/5