Book: The Woman Upstairs

"A quiet, sober tale of friendship and loneliness."

A Boston woman starts to tire of life alone, un-noticed. She meets the Shahids, an exotic family comprising of a wife, a husband and a child and becomes enamoured with the three of them.

Written in the first person through the eyes of Nora, The Woman Upstairs tries to weave an intimate tale of ageing, art, love and loss. The desire to ‘do something’ before it’s too late is one of Nora’s driving forces in life, along with the need to create.

The reality is that she seems to worry about this more than she actually wants to fix it. Then the Shahids arrive and she gets the opportunity to be a mother, an artist and a lover. We sympathise with her but Nora seems to live through them, almost as if she’s just pretending. This gives the whole novel a certain tension, like everything is about to collapse.

This is an introspective novel, very little actually happens, but Messud is a talented writer and gives us plenty to chew on. If you can get past the notion that this is a novel about middle class white people’s problems, which it is, The Woman Upstairs gives us a unique take on old ideas.

Claire Messud | 2013