The Woman Upstairs PDF/EPUB ✓ The Woman eBook

The Woman Upstairs 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 BookNora 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


10 thoughts on “The Woman Upstairs

  1. Greg Greg says:

    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 tosympathize 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 schoolteacherwannabe artist whose life is reawakened but then betrayed by a charismatic expat and successful artist her charming 8 year old son and her scholarly husband “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim” To which Messud replies “What kind of uestion is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Hamlet?Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov?If you’re reading to find friends you’re in deep trouble We read to find life in all its possibilities The relevant uestion isn’t 'is this a potential friend for me?' but 'is this character alive?'This resonates in a big way with me Isn't that why we read to have complete access to a character’s deepest thoughts and feelings in all their messiness whether via the first person or third? The kind of access we don't get to even our closest friends and relatives in real life? But a very smart Goodreads review of this novel also notes “I read to find friends and shame on any fiction writer who tries to embarrass me for that I can't recall a single thrilling reading experience in my life that wasn't about connecting to the characters”Which to me just solidifies the act of reading as one of the most creatively subjective pursuits there is; you can’t say a person isn't a discerning reader for having an honest reaction to a story's unlikeable characters But at the same time I don’t like to think that The Woman Upstairs could be dismissed on this issue aloneSo what of the novel? It’s not for everyone Is Nora unlikeable? Sure She’s also angry and lonely and carries the burden of her family’s past along with her But she’s not a character without very real humanity Her furious all too apparent self consciousness the way she sometimes bathes almost luxuriously in her anger may be unrelatable and perhaps even repulsive but it’s impossible not to be moved by her desire to ultimately transcend that anger in her uest to live an authentic life To her each member of the Shahid family “in my impassioned interior conversations granted me some aspect of my most dearly held most fiercely hidden heart’s desires life art motherhood love and the great seductive promise that I wasn’t nothing that I could be seen for my unvarnished self and that this hidden self this precious girl without a mask unseen for decades could that she must indeed leave a trace upon the world” While it may not sway some readers for me this makes Nora's likeability completely irrelevant I can’t read lines like this and not be moved


  2. Roxane Roxane says:

    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 kids This is not universally true but still Come on And maybe I'm just being oversensitive but I don't feel middle aged at all I don't feel young I'm not delusional But I still feel like there's a lot of life yet to live so I'm probably personalizing this a bit I just feel like framing Nora as a spinster misses the mark And also the very end is so sharp and so breathtaking and I wish the rest of the book was as good Middle aged my ass Also it's weird how anger is articulated but rarely shown here Anger seems like an idea than an actual emotion


  3. Bonny Bonny says:

    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 part Unmarried childless elementary school teacher Nora Eldridge thinks “It was supposed to say ‘Great Artist’ on my tombstone but if I died right now it would say ‘such a good teacherdaughterfriend’ instead” She becomes infatuated with the whole Shahid family and because of this association she resumes some of her own artistic endeavors only to let them get crowded out due to her obsession There is a possibility that I didn't 'get' this book because I'm not terribly sophisticated and don't understand 'Great Artists' but it seems to me that adjusting our aspirations is something every single one of us has to deal with as we grow older I hope I'm dealing with it in a mature productive and reasonable way than the deluded and angry Nora


  4. Elizabeth Elizabeth says:

    This is a rancorous read about lost opportunities The narrator is bursting with rage Uncomfortable Corrosive UrgentBut the writing Oh the writing Masterly and picture perfect And the ending?Unforeseen Damn


  5. Diane Diane says:

    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 time to be an artist One day she meets a boy named Reza and she becomes so attached to him and his parents that she feels like she's falling in love with the family Sirena the boy's mother is also an artist and the two women share an art studio for the year Skandar the boy's father is a visiting scholar at Harvard and Nora enjoys long discussions with him Reza is a charming little boy and Nora enjoys babysitting him when his parents are busyWhen we meet Nora she admits she is very angry but it's not clear what caused it At first I thought it was being single and childless being undervalued as a woman in a patriarchal society being forced to be a school teacher when she really wanted to create art etc It is all of those things but there is We don't fully understand the reasons for her anger until the end of the book which brought a surprising conclusion to the storyI could relate to Nora's dreams and fears and anxieties and anger and I saw shades of women I know in her She was very real very well drawn Nora calls herself the Woman Upstairs because she feels invisible she feels like a good girl who is overlooked and taken for granted Nora felt connected to the world when she was sharing part of her life with Sirena and Reza and Skandar Early on we sense the relationship was temporary because she called it the year with Sirena so at some point she is abandoned and alone againMy only criticisms of the book were the references to real world events Most of the story takes place in 2004 and I found those newsy intrusions annoying Also Reza was described as so cherubic and sweet that it was unbelievable In the book the women were realized characters than the men and boys and I never really understood Skandar But overall this book is well written and a compelling story and I would highly recommend itUpdate After Book ClubWe had a great discussion about this novel during Book Club and I was relieved that I wasn't the only one who reacted so strongly and personally to Nora's story Several women said reading this book was like holding up a mirror I am adding this caveat that Nora's attitude and writing were intense and one of my friends was so disturbed by the book that she couldn't finish it So this is my warning that this novel is not a carefree readAmazing Opening PassageHow angry am I? You don't want to know Nobody wants to know about that I'm a good girl I'm a nice girl I'm a straight A strait laced good daughter good career girl and I never stole anybody's boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend and I put up with my parents' shit and my brother's shit and I'm not a girl anyhow I'm over forty fucking years old and I'm good at my job and I'm great with kids and I held my mother's hand when she died after four years of holding her hand while she was dying and I speak to my father every day on the telephone every day mind you and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river because here it's pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to stay Great Artist on my tombstone but if I died right now it would say such a good teacherdaughterfriend instead and what I really want to shout and want in big letters on that grave too is FUCK YOU ALL Don't all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it how in touch we are with our fury We're all furies except the ones who are too damned foolish and my worry now is that we're brainwashing them from the cradle and in the end even the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish What do I mean? I mean the second graders at Appleton Elementary sometimes the first graders even and by the time they get to my classroom to the third grade they're well and truly gone they're full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and cute outfits and they care how their hair looks In the third grade They care about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics How did all that revolutionary talk of the seventies land us in a place where being female means playing dumb and looking good? Even worse on your tombstone than dutiful daughter is looked good; everyone used to know that But we're lost in a world of appearances now Favorite uotesI always understood that the great dilemma of my mother's life had been to glimpse freedom too late at too high a price She was of the generation for which the rules changed halfway born into a world of pressed linens and three course dinners and hairsprayed updos in which women were educated and then deployed for domestic purposes — rather like using an elaborately embroidered tablecloth on which to serve messy children their breakfastI always thought I'd get farther I'd like to blame the world for what I've failed to do but the failure — the failure that sometimes washes over me as anger makes me so angry I could spit — is all mine in the end What made my obstacles insurmountable what consigned me to mediocrity is me just me I thought for so long forever that I was strong enough — or I misunderstood what strength was I thought I could get to greatness to my greatness by plugging on cleaning up each mess as it came the way you're taught to eat your greens before you have dessert But it turns out that's a rule for girls and sissies because the mountain of greens is of Everest proportions and the bowl of ice cream at the far end of the table is melting a little with each passing second There will be ants on it soon And then they'll come and clear it away altogether The hubris of it thinking I could be a decent human being and a valuable member of family and society and still create Absurd How strong did I think I was?When you're the Woman Upstairs nobody thinks of you first Nobody calls you before anyone else or sends you the first postcard Once your mother dies nobody loves you best of allYou know those moments at school or college when suddenly the cosmos seems like one vast plan after all patterned in such a way that the novel you're reading at bedtime connects to your astronomy lecture connects to what you heard on NPR connects to what your friend discusses in the cafeteria at lunch — and then briefly it's as if the lid has come off the world as if the world were a dollhouse and you can glimpse what it would be like to see it whole from above — a vertiginous magnificence And then the lid falls and you fall and the reign of the ordinary resumesWhat does it mean that the first thing every American child knows about Germany is Hitler? What if the first thing you knew was something else? And maybe some people would say that now it's important after the Second World War it's ethical and vital that Hitler is the first thing a child knows But someone else can argue the opposite And what would it do how would it change things if nobody were allowed to know anything about Hitler about the war about any of it until first they learned about Brahms Beethoven and Bach about Hegel and Lessing and Fichte about Schopenhauer about Rilke one of those things you had to know and appreciate because you learned about the NazisThe Woman Upstairs is like that We keep it together You don't make a mess and you don't make mistakes and you don't call people weeping at four in the morning You don't reveal secrets it would be unseemly for you to have You turn forty and you laugh about it and make jokes about needing martinis and how forty is the new thirty and you don't say aloud and nobody else says aloud what all of you are thinking which is 'Well I guess she's never going to have kids now'


  6. Melanie Melanie says:

    Annasue McCleave Wilson from Publishers Weekly I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grimClaire Messud For heaven’s sake what kind of uestion 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 Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends you’re in deep trouble We read to find life in all its possibilities The relevant uestion isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?” Nora’s outlook isn’t “unbearably grim” at all Nora is telling her story in the immediate wake of an enormous betrayal by a friend she has loved dearly She is deeply upset and angry But most of the novel is describing a time in which she felt hope beauty elation joy wonder anticipation—these are things these friends gave to her and this is why they mattered so much Her rage corresponds to the immensity of what she has lost It doesn’t matter in a way whether all those emotions were the result of real interactions or of fantasy she experienced them fully And in losing them has lost happinessWhat is this strange obsession with the likeability or unlikeability of Nora's character in this stupendous novel? It seems so stale and entirely besides the point to me that I don't even know where to begin Thank goodness for my Goodreads friends Gloria Marianna and Ami who were uick to jump to this woman's defense underlining how much they actually identified and empathized with her as opposed to feeling appalled by her inner demons When have you last heard a female's voice so sharply defined so feverish so inhabited so perceptive so damn heartbreaking as Nora's? Here is a shimmering complex and broken character whom Virginia Woolf would have revered Who has never felt envy towards others? Obsessive friendships? Unrealized and stubborn aspirations that eat at you like a plague? There is no likeability or unlikeability here only the furious will to live and hunger for feeling I could go on and on but I will leave the last words to Margaret Atwood taking part in the debate in The New Yorker Also what is “likeable”? We love to watch bad people do awful things in fictions though we would not like it if they did those things to us in real life The energy that drives any fictional plot comes from the darker forces whether they be external opponents of the heroine or hero or internal components of their selvesThink Walter White in Breaking Bad Isn't he one of the most riveting complicated morally torn and furiously alive character you've ever encountered? Nora Eldridge is cut from the same clothAn astounding novel


  7. Debbie "DJ" Debbie "DJ" says:

    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 downIt actually disturbs me that the uestion of whether or not Nora the main character is likable or not was even brought up I found her fascinating and the thought of whether or not I liked her never occurred to me This really brings up the uestion of stereotypes in our society and just how prevalent they are I found Messud's writing absolutely brilliant and was enthralled the entire timeWhile this book does lack a solid plot there is so much to chew on It revolves around Nora a schoolteacher who is the woman upstairs In the beginning Nora talked about her anger anger that she is trapped in a world that is a sham One she feels has limited her in every way Describing the woman upstairs she says We're the uiet women at the end of the 3rd floor hallway who's trash is always tidy who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting and who from behind closed doors never makes a soundwe are furiouswe're completely invisible She also asks a hypothetical uestion given the chance would we rather fly or be invisible She states that most choose to fly but right away I chose to be invisible which is maybe why I loved this book so much But then again I had never considered Nora's type of invisibleThe entire story centers on a particular period of time in Nora's life where she felt alive and hopeful again It happens when a particular couple and their young son enter her life and she becomes madly obsessed with them She falls in love with them each in a different and profound way Her dream has always been to be an artist She feels life has passed her by at the age of 37 To feel this way at 37? Yet as I look at societies obsession with youth and how few women I see over that age especially in acting television and the music industry it gives me pause Yet another societal stereotype Messud has cleverly inserted into her story As Nora's dream was to become an artist her feelings may not be that far off the mark Yet as she is drawn into this families life she experiences a new passion for her art and everything she assumed was lost to her However these passions only awaken through others It becomes a scary look into a woman who has no selfI can't help but look at women who's lives are so bound by what others think of them how the outside must always look in perfect order and just how damaging this is And where it could lead through the character of Nora The ending of this book packs a wallop and left me wanting to know Highly Recommended


  8. Debbie Debbie says:

    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 MO no matter how hard she tries Nora euates 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 she falls in love with Sirena a glamorous Italian artist with a beautiful son and husband Nora isn’t just in love she is obsessed and her obsession fills her every waking moment But Nora never professes her love and her love affair remains a fantasy Nora is extremely self conscious and constantly wonders what Sirena thinks of her Since the story is told from Nora’s point of view we don’t really know what Sirena thinks of her either until the book ends and packs a wallop Nora who always wanted to be an artist is influenced by Sirena and they rent a studio space together Nora starts devoting all her free time to art although she thinks it’s a sham She is creating dollhouses inhabited by famous people and is merely reenacting history whereas Sirena is creating original art—big bizarre multi media installations Sirena asks Nora for help with her project and Nora is thrilled Mostly it gives Nora an excuse to be around Sirena though she likes the art part too In some ways it’s easy to relate to Nora She is full of major regret She always wanted to be an artist but like so many of us she sacrificed art to earn a decent living Did she sell out? Did we? I identified with her unwillingness to network and kiss up which the art worlds demand Who wants to schmooze? Who wants the competition? And then on top of that there’s the fear of failing Nora just wants to create art not struggle with egos and practicalities She feels like she missed her chance to pursue what she really wanted to do Or had she just been too scared or lazy to go after her dream? Did she get hung up with money and comfort? These are the things that Nora pondersMy major complaint is that not much happens At the beginning of the book Nora is pissed very pissed Her anger is strong and passionate and aggressive and I was getting revved up with her I was ready for the rest of the book to be high drama but the intensity drops off immediately as she flashes back to the events that led up to her being pissed and it’s slow going The old Nora who occupies most of the book is super passive and spends most of the time mulling things over I count about five events; the rest is brilliant internal monologue Don’t get me wrong—I love brilliant internal monologues But I don’t like it when they overpower the book when I find myself saying “Hurry up now Get to the point Let’s have something HAPPEN”Okay I know picky picky But indeed I have some other complaintsIt’s all in the ending Or is it? The ending though super clever and astounding left me wanting a little closure So what happened THEN? At least it was WAY better than the ending in “The Other Typist” which was ambiguous and REALLY frustratingThose damn dashes The writer went a little dash crazy especially toward the end of the book Overusing dashes like overusing parentheses makes the writing sloppy; every fragment seems like an afterthought or a bit of stream of consciousnessArt smarts Way too many detailed descriptions of art pieces A little is okay but a lot means I have to work too hard My head hurts I want dialogue I want relationships I don’t want descriptive text Granted the art pieces were super edgy and weird and 3 D but still Fuck Saying fuck is fine but please use it like you mean it Nora speaks pretty formally so I didn’t buy it when she said fuck and it was made worse by the fact that she used it very sparingly In my experience you either say fuck a lot or you don’t say it at all It jarred me every time I hope I’m not accused of the same thing Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck So there Really how old is she? Is Nora just 37? Huh? There’s a disconnect between the way Nora acts and her supposed age I didn’t buy it that she’s so set in her ways at 37 She thinks she missed the boat that her life is almost over that it’s too late to pursue art What? She’s still a baby Her habits and even her thoughts seem like those of someone who's 50 or 60 or even 70 I’m 64 and I felt like she was my peer She needs a lot pep in her step for me to believe she’s in her mid 30sIt’s strange that this book resembles “The Other Typist” so much both books have a female narrator who is sad and solitary and who becomes obsessed with a charismatic woman And both have tons of internal monologues Nora is definitely likable and endearing than Rose in “The Other Typist” which made me like “The Woman Upstairs” betterWhat’s the final verdict? It’s one of those books that I liked after I finished reading it And it’s one of those books where I highlighted a lot which always ups the rating It’s a good story with great insight into a complex character and the ending is priceless The book just gets bogged down in Nora’s thoughts at the expense of dialogue and action I do recommend it; I don’t think others will be so annoyed by the lack of action It’s a good read It gets a 40 despite my complaint board


  9. Dolors Dolors says:

    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 citizenBut 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 own the middle aged woman who is content in her resigned singleness But deep down underneath the artificial mask of clownish kindness she is boiling with anger for her mundane life humiliated by the way people take her for granted indignant at the way life has cheated on her And so when the Sahids enter her suffocating dull world she seizes them as a drowning man will clutch a straw and pretends to become a surrogate wife mother and artist to the oblivious family crossing the line of the morally dubious showing her ugly side without subterfuge and baring her dark soul to the reader unashamedlyI was cheering for Nora and for Messud in the first pages of this psychological roller coaster for the subversive undertone that mines Messud’s straightforward voice basking in their protest against the sexist role assigned to women in literature as in many other aspects of our culture and was ready to empathize with this unconventional maybe even despicable heroine I respect what Messud was trying to achieve when she gave life to this modern “Miss Brodie” Female protagonists have been simplified or overlooked for years while their male counterparts were thoroughly delineated in all their vibrant complexities and inconsistencies provided with articulated expression to vouch for their unethical actions Nora was created to break the mold to expose her selfish needs her middle class uandaries to disgust readers by the way she grovels in self pity Nora was supposed to become eual to any other flawed human being regardless of class or gender to rise above convention and speak for the many women who live trapped in their circumstancesLeaving style aside which I think is rather unimpressive in delivery my main concern is that as I approached the end of Nora’s confession I felt she was measured by the very same standards she was trying to rebel against restricting her to a limited form of expression that belittled her in the eyes of others Her rage has no conseuence and is born in silence Art or no art dreams or no dreams I expected greater things from Nora’s anger I expected a grand finale an outrageous outcome and I merely got a feeble implosion of a woman realizing she has lived a lie imposed by her inflated delusions of grandeur No need to go upstairs women like Nora abound everywhere


  10. Julie Julie says:

    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 her mother is caring for her elderly father is not married and her life hasn’t exactly panned out like she had intended For whatever reason she begins to latch onto her new friend Sirena her husband Skandar and their son Reza The attachment uickly escalates into an unhealthy obsession and of course this never ends well But this story has an added twist to that theme and it’s the anticipation of that development that kept me turning pages wondering when the other shoe was going to drop Well hum I’m not sure what to make of this one Nora is one weird chickadee I suppose she had dedicated so much time to caring for her mother going through the normal routine of teaching school and hanging out with her regular friends that she was looking for some kind of excitement something or someone to come along and pull her out of her ordinary routine and add a dash of color to her otherwise dull existence But I didn’t understand the depth of that attachment or why she clung to it so ferociously for so long Without seeming to realize it she traded her bland routine for another routine one that still kept her from being fully appreciated or living life outside her comfort zone The bombshell is a real stunner and would certainly account for the roiling anger Nora is expressing at the beginning of the book It was of course the final straw for Nora You’ll have to read the book to see how she responds to this revelation This is a character study than anything and the story only remains interesting for a while then soon begins to drag so that it was almost torturous having to slog through the last uarter of the book which was dull and lifeless just to get to the big reveal The story came to a shockingly abrupt end but the point was made succinctly so perhaps nothing need be added Overall this one was slightly off the beaten path for me but had its merits It wasn’t great but it was okay 3 stars


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