Woman Upstairs (Messud) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
“Corrosively funny.... Nora—a not-quite 40 schoolteacher as disappointed in her Katy Perry-obsessed students as she is in her own failed potential—finds her dormant creative passions awakened by a student’s worldly mother, an artist who shows in Paris. An ardent friendship unfolds, ending in a betrayal that unleashes in Nora an eloquent, primal rage. Fifty years ago, Simone de Beauvoir faulted creative women for their unwillingness to "dare to irritate, explore, explode," Two generations later, anger this combustible still feels refreshing.
Megan O’Grady - Vogue


Nora Eldridge, a schoolteacher who dreams of being an artist, is angry, cynical, and quietly desperate. Then she meets the Shahid family: Sirena, Skandar, and Reza, a student in Nora’s third-grade class.... When Sirena asks Nora to share an artists’ studio, Nora falls in love with each exotic Shahid in turn... But after freeing Nora from herself, the Shahids betray her.... As with other Messud characters, these too are hard to love; few would want to know the unpalatable Nora, so full of self-loathing, nor the self-important Shahids.
Publishers Weekly


It shows Messud at the height of her considerable powers, articulating the quandary of being alive and sentient, covetous and confused in the twenty-first century.... The Woman Upstairs is an extraordinary novel, a psychological suspense story of the highest sort that will leave you thinking about its implications for days afterward. Messud’s skills are all on display here, [in] a work of fiction that is not just beautifully observed but also palpably inhabited by its gifted writer in a manner she has not quite dared attempt before.
Daphne Merkin - Bookforum


(Starred review.) With exhilarating velocity, fury, and wit, the superlative Messud immolates an iconic figure—the good, quiet, self-sacrificing woman.... Nora, our archly funny, venomous, and raging narrator, recounts her thirty-seventh year, when she was living alone and teaching third grade after the death of her mother.... Messud’s scorching social anatomy, red-hot psychology, galvanizing story, and incandescent language make for an all-circuits-firing novel about enthrallment, ambition, envy, and betrayal. A tour de force portraying a no longer invisible or silent "woman upstairs." —Donna Seaman
Booklist


(Starred review.) A self-described "good girl" lifts her mask in Messud's scarifying new novel. "How angry am I?" Nora Eldridge rhetorically asks in her opening sentence. "You don't want to know." But she tells us anyway.... So when the exotic Shahid family enters her life in the fall of 2004, Nora sees them as saviors. Reza is in her class ... his Italian mother, Sirena, [is] the kind of bold, assertive artist Nora longs to be.... [T]he story unfolds to reveal Sirena as something of a user...though it's unwise to credit Nora's jaundiced perceptions. Her untrustworthy, embittered narration...is an astonishing feat of creative imagination: at once self-lacerating and self-pitying, containing enough truth to induce squirms....[but] inspires little confidence that Nora can actually change her ways. Brilliant and terrifying.
Kirkus Reviews




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