The Woman Upstairs

The Woman Upstairs

A Novel

Book - 2013
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is on the verge of disappearing. Having abandoned her desire to be an artist, she has become the "woman upstairs," a reliable friend and tidy neighbour always on the fringe of others' achievements. Then into her classroom walks a new pupil, Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents--dashing Skandar, a half-Muslim Professor of Ethical History born in Beirut, and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist--have come to America for Skandar to teach at Harvard.

But one afternoon, Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who punch, push and call him a "terrorist," and Nora is quickly drawn deep into the complex world of the Shahid family. Soon she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora's happiness explodes her boundaries--until Sirena's own ambition leads to a shattering betrayal.

Written with intimacy and piercing emotion, this urgently dispatched story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill--and the devastating cost--of giving in to one's passions. The Woman Upstairs is a masterly story of America today, of being a woman and of the exhilarations of love.
Publisher: New York ; Toronto : Knopf, c2013
ISBN: 9780307401168
Branch Call Number: MESS
Characteristics: 253 pages


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jan 13, 2018

Teen angst in middle age. Self indulgent and rather ho hum.

Feb 18, 2017

Boring and annoying. Why should any reader care about a bitter character whose is so unhappy with her life that she make diorama's of literary worlds just for fun? Then tries to steal someone else's life and complains when it does not work out? Oh and to top it all off, decides to give up in the end? What? This book made no sense. Pointless.

Cynthia_N Jan 22, 2017

A sad story about a woman who feels as if she is an invisible participant in life. She doesn't matter. I think most of us will have this feeling at least once in our lives. Worth the time.

Apr 22, 2016

This is a disturbingly close look at the walled life of a single woman who falls in love together and separately with a mysterious new family in her town. I couldn't put it down.

Dec 29, 2015

Wow. I found this very powerful. The main character is rather milquetoast, and very frustrating in her ineffectiveness and timidity. But she's always intelligent, a little cynical, and mostly self-aware. So the twist - for lack of a better word -made me gasp and cringe in sympathetic embarrassment - even though we all just KNOW something bad is going to happen - and then the ending gave me literal chills. What an excellent, visceral depiction of a person whose life didn't turn out the way they wanted it to; a bitter, lonely, almost desperate person without agency, who finally takes control of her life - but only after being utterly devastated. Just, wow.

Jun 05, 2015

This is an interesting, well-written and thought-provoking book. One theme is the price of conformity; another is the price of not knowing yourself. It says something about women in the modern world.

Mar 05, 2015

I found this to be a rather boring narration of a self-centered woman who allows herself to be manipulated by the parents of one of her students. The conclusion is predictable, in that she suffers thorough humiliation at their hands. Not worth the time spent reading it.

Jul 20, 2014

The woman upstairs can be seen as a metaphor for many periods of own own lives....

Feb 09, 2014

I waited anxiously for my turn to read this book. I suppose hearing a CBC book review caught my interest and my being a school teacher made Nora, the main character, from a world with which I am very familiar.

What I found was a novel that might have been better as a short story. The character seemed to travel in a spiral that went around and around the same self absorbed issues but it never made me really care if they got resolved or not.

I've heard some reviewers describe it as a good read because its central character is unlikeable. That doesn't make it a book I'm glad I spent my precious reading time with though.

Jan 13, 2014

The Woman Upstairs starts with one of the most intense opening paragraphs of all time: "It was supposed to say ‘Great Artist’ on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say ‘such a good teacher/daughter/friend’ instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is F**K YOU ALL.” Nora Eldridge is a middle-aged elementary school teacher who’s righteously angry about having to play the part of the “good girl" when she’s not a girl at all but a 42-year-old woman brimming with unfulfilled dreams, hunger, and ambition. When she meets an artsy international family that she becomes creepily close to, the story takes on the sharp edge of a twisty psychological thriller à la Sissy Spacek and Shelly Duvall in the creep-tastic masterpiece that is 3 Women. I loved where this book was going, but ultimately wished it would’ve ditched some of the fancy word play and dug a little deeper into the emotional heart of an otherwise searing story that tickles all my usual sweet spots. It’s one of those books that I wanted to LOVE, but ended up just liking instead.

View All Comments


Add a Summary
Jul 20, 2014

3rd grade teacher, single, and trying to be an artist, lives her life on the fringes of others' lives. When she befriends the family of a student and that family betrays her, she gets angry enough to live her life on her own terms.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at FSPL

To Top