Feature

Novel of the week: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Claire Messud’s blistering new novel seems “destined to become a cultural benchmark.”

(Knopf, $26)

Claire Messud’s blistering new novel seems “destined to become a cultural benchmark,” said Sam Sacks in The Wall Street Journal. The book’s title itself provides “an indelible label” for a particular type—the unmarried woman who’s leading a dutiful, unfulfilling existence and never gets a chance to unleash her hidden fury. Nora Eldridge, a quiet schoolteacher who once dreamed of being a painter, at first is recounting how her gray life was recharged when, at 37, she befriended a successful Italian artist and the artist’s professor husband. But this novel is no uplifting tale about embracing new possibilities, said Karen Valby in Entertainment Weekly. It’s a book “sweating with rage”—a rage that starts to build as Nora’s new friends exploit her neediness and that reaches a blazing fury when the narrative culminates in a betrayal “of startling proportions.” Messud’s story “grips like a choke hold” through the last page. “Don’t be surprised if you then pick it back up and start all over again.”

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