Wednesday, August 13, 2014

audiobook review: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

narrated by Cassandra Campbell

The basics: Nora Eldridge, an aspiring artist and third-grade teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tells the story of the year her utterly ordinary life becomes something more. The Shahid family, Skandar, a Lebanese visiting scholar, his wife Sirena, an Italian artist, and their son, Reza, arrive in town, and Nora finds herself drawn to all three of them. She shares a studio space with Sirena, teaches Reza, and looks forward to long talks with Skandar.

My thoughts: Nora narrates this story from the future. She's a few years removed from the action, yet her storytelling is still filled with emotion. Her rage often seems just below the surface, and the pain is so fresh. The rawness of these emotions brings an air of mystery to this story. There's a haunting urgency to Nora's story, as though she's begging the reader to believe and understand her actions and emotions, even as she reflects on how some of her choices were not the best.

Messud's control of this story, and this fascinating narrator and character of Nora, is masterful. She tells the story in a way that makes the reader understand simultaneously how Nora sees the world and how others likely see it. Coupled with Nora's story is the exploration of "the women upstairs," of which Nora is one. It's a powerful social commentary on gender, visibility, and worth.

Audio thoughts: Cassandra Campbell is my favorite audiobook narrator, and I sometimes joke I would listen to anything she read. It was part of why I picked this title to download from the library. As always, Campbell is extraordinary. Her narration of Nora was excellent. Campbell has a way of embodying the characters she reads. Even with her familiar voice, I forgot it was Campbell and not Nora herself telling me this story.

The verdict: The Woman Upstairs is one of those rare books I love as much as I admire. Messud's writing and storytelling are astonishingly good. When I finished, I found myself angry this novel isn't being talked about enough. Why aren't my fellow readers shoving it into my hands? Why aren't we singing the praises of Claire Messud louder? Here's your rallying cry, readers: The Woman Upstairs is a must read.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 11 hours 1 minute (321 pages)
Publication date: April 30, 2013
Source: library

Now tell me? After being so late to the Claire Messud party, which of her books should I read next?

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Woman Upstairs from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Claire Messud's website and like her on Facebook.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I loved this book, too, and didn't realize Cassandra Campbell narrated the audio version until I was halfway through it in print. She is one of my favorite narrators, too! Haven't read any of Messud's other books, but I did pick up The Emperor's Children at a library book sale. Now to find time to read it ;-)

  2. no, no, I loved it too. I also listened to the audiobook, and I loved how her anger was always there, ready to bubble up.

  3. A good narrator can either make or break an audio book. I've had a couple of bad experiences lately, so i will put this on my list of books to try.

  4. I've been really interested in this one but I heard a lot of mixed things about it. I need to try and find the audio!


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