The Woman Upstairs

Claire Messud introduces Nora Eldridge as The Woman Upstairs. The good daughter, teacher, friend who doesn’t cause problems or inspire greatness. She is ever present in our lives but barely living hers. I don’t know if Nora saw herself like this until she met the Shahids; an artist mother, a passionate political father, and an adorable boy in her classroom.

Until this point, I think Nora may have been content with her life and still had enough hope that exciting things could happen. She gave up the artists life years ago and moved back to Cambridge to care for her dying mother. She tells us these things and seems saddened with how her life turned out, but there is much bitterness and anger seething through her words. The entire novel is told from Nora’s perspective immediately after a life changing event, and Messud lets her current perspective tint her story telling.

It is a unrelenting diatribe on not allowing the happiness into the world and Messud doesn’t tell us the reason against this trust until the very end. And its a beautifully horrific way to end a friendship and is left vague enough that we don’t even witness any outcome. This is almost written as a confession as to why something offstage is about to happen without ever telling us what happened. Its a little frustrating but it makes me want to read the whole book again to see if I missed clues and foreshadowing about the unspoken events.

Well written and it makes me want to go out and live a little more. Not to be tied down helping other people live their lives, but to take the jump into the real world more that I’ve ever done. But don’t worry, I won’t leave my family and kill anyone any time soon.

Read August 2013