By Claire Messud
American novelist Claire Messud is the author of four previous works of fiction, including the PEN/Faulkner Award finalist When The World Was Steady (1995) and the Booker Prize finalist The Emperor's Children (**** SELECTION Nov/Dec 2006). She also teaches creative writing.
THE STORY: Nora Eldridge, 37, teaches third grade in Cambridge, Massachusetts; in her 20s, she deferred her artistic ambitions, nearly got married, and followed her mother's advice to avoid dependence on a man. "What made my obstacles insurmountable, what consigned me to mediocrity," she explains, "is me, just me." But when eight-year-old Reza Shahid arrives in her classroom, fresh from Paris, Nora's world changes. Obsessed with Reza and his glamorous parents--the Lebanese-born Skandar, a visiting professor, and his alluring Italian wife, Sirena, who crafts vast, surreal art in counterpoint to her own shoe-box-sized dioramas--Nora is drawn deep into their complex world. In relating, four years later, how her involvement with the Shahids awakened her to the reality of her own cloistered life, she asks, "How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that."
Knopf. 272 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307596901
Miami Herald *****
"Nora Eldridge has to be one of the richest and most fully human characters to come along in years. ... The prose here never calls undue attention to itself, and The Woman Upstairs dazzles without outwardly trying." ANDREW ERVIN
NY Times Book Review *****
"Reading Nora's turbulent testament of belief and betrayal, you feel less like a spectator than a witness. ... In this ingenious, disquieting novel, she has assembled an intricate puzzle of self-belief and self-doubt, showing the peril of seeking your own image in someone else's distorted mirror--or even, sometimes, in your own." LIESL SCHILLINGER
Wall Street Journal *****
"Claire Messud's fourth novel is that rare work of fiction seemingly destined to become a cultural benchmark, a byword even. ... It is an altogether impolitic piece of artistry. It is a big, defiant gesture of the sort that women like Nora fear they no longer have within them." SAM SACKS
Denver Post ****
"Claire Messud is a gifted literary critic as well as a novelist and for long stretches, The Woman Upstairs reads like a literary critic's conception of what a good novel should be: with easily parsed themes, knotty ambiguities and deliberate echoes of other great works of...