Claire Messud usually writes restrained and elegant prose, but her newest novel, “The Woman Upstairs“, is surprisingly elemental, and none could call it lacking in emotional content.
Nora, a 3rd grade teacher of a certain age, describes herself as one of a legion of unmarried women who are reliably … reliable. She is an excellent schoolteacher and lives her life without encroaching on the boundaries of others, both proud and a a little desperate that her existence is so self-contained. When the Shahid family moves to town, their angelic child immediately earns her respect and interest, and his artist mother becomes a close friend and source of inspiration to Nora, while his dark and handsome father exerts an equally powerful draw.
Needless to say this does not end well. It is the details of Nora’s year of love, friendship and hope that make her story ring so true, and make Messud’s readers cringe with empathy and the sense of impending disaster. This is a read for a sensitive soul, perfect for a wintery day, but make sure you have some hot cocoa and someone who loves you to return to when you finish this dark tale. It lays bare the fragile tangle of ego and self-esteem that is just below the surface of every self-sufficient upstairs woman.
Recommended by Alison, with a caveat- really, line up the comfort before you even start this one.