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The Woman Upstairs

Claire Messud.
Publisher Vintage  
Format paperback
ISBN 9780307743763
Pages/Publication Date 304/2014
Daedalus Item Code 49237
This item is not available.
This explosive novel from the author of The Emperor's Children and the PEN/Faulkner Award finalists When the World Was Steady and The Hunters is a distaff "Howl," releasing the pent-up rage of a middle-aged woman who has been a "good girl" all of her life. Nora Eldridge long ago compromised her dream to be a brilliant artist, mother, and lover, and has instead become the "woman upstairs," a reliable friend and neighbor always on the fringe of others' achievements. Then into her elementary school classroom come Reza Shahid, as enchanting as an elfin child, and his cosmopolitan parents Skandar, a dashing Lebanese professor taking a fellowship at Harvard, and Sirena, an effortlessly alluring Italian artist. When Reza is bullied, Nora is drawn closer to the Shahids and finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. But her emerging passion for an authentic life is met with a devastating betrayal.

"Fantastic—one of those seemingly small stories that so burst with rage and desire that they barely squeeze between hard covers. The prose is impeccable ... [Claire] Messud writes about happiness, and about infatuation—about love—more convincingly than any author I've encountered in years. She fills [her] protagonist with an inner life so rich and furious that you will never again nod hello in the hall to 'the woman upstairs' without thinking twice.... Is Nora's entrancement erotic, or bigger and stranger than sex? I'm not telling. Read the book."—NPR

"If I have sounded like an equivocal admirer of Messud's until now, let me hereby announce my full conversion to fandom with her latest novel, The Woman Upstairs. For one thing, it is something none of her other fiction has been, which is an absolute page-turner, from its grab-you-by-the-collar opening—"How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that"—to its final rumination on the creative uses of anger: "a great boil of rage like the sun's fire in me." For another, it may well be the first truly feminist (in the best, least didactic sense) novel I have read in ages—the novel candid about sex and the intricacies of female desire that Virginia Woolf hoped someone would write, given a room and income of her own. The Woman Upstairs takes on, at full throttle, the ways in which women are socialized into being accommodating "nice girls" and the ruthlessness—the "myopia"—that is necessary to pursue artistic ambition. It shows Claire Messud at the height of her considerable powers, articulating the quandary of being alive and sentient, covetous and confused in the 21st 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."—Bookforum

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