The Woman Upstairs Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Woman Upstairs

A lonely woman who is a teacher and aspiring artist becomes obsessed with the family of one of her students. Nora Eldridge is a woman living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who longs to be more accomplished and to feel included and loved by all three members of charismatic family new to town. Nora becomes fond of Reza, one of her elementary school students. When she protects him from being bullied, she meets his mother, Sirena a beautiful and intriguing artist, and eventually his intellectual father, Skandar. Sirena coaxes Nora to share an art studio and as the women become closer, Nora's fascination with this multicultural, talented and famous family edges closer to obsession.
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Nora gives her time and attention freely to the family and believes she has a deep and unique connection with each of them. She babysits Reza free of charge and loves him like her own son. She believes the child considers her a member of the family. After each baby-sitting session, she allows Skandar to walk her home and expound on various intellectual and political topics as she listens, enchanted. She senses that her occasional witty comments and questions light a unique spark in Skandar and that the attraction she feels to him is mutual.

Nora also pitches in to help Sirena with the large scale multi-media art project she is building in the shared studio, and goes with Sirena on an day trip to purchase materials. When the women go out to dinner after shopping, Nora feels exhilarated and alive. Sirena's charisma makes even mundane chores feel exciting and Nora wants life to feel this way always. She thinks that her and Sirena are right on the verge of sharing their feelings. She believes the she and the family will find a way to go on living together.

Nora works on her own art at the studio. She builds tiny scale models of the homes of famous writers. Both Sirena and Skandar seem a bit dismissive of Nora's art and she internalizes that, feeling she does not live up to Sirena who is a much more accomplishes artist.

Nora confides in her close friends about her feelings for the family. Her friends warn that it sounds like Nora is being pulled in by people well practiced in charm. She doesn't want to listen, but the seed of doubt has been planted. When Sirena neglects to tell Nora about an important meeting with a gallerist, Nora feels slighted and wonders if her other friends were right.

Late one night, Skandar drops by the art studio. Nora drinks wine and talks with him, then impulsively sleeps with him. She feels very conflicted about this incident. Has she betrayed a friend, or is it possible that Sirena encouraged her own husband to seduce Nora and draw her into the family.

Wen Skandar pulls away after that night, and Sirena becomes ever more absorbed in preparations for her art show, Nora begins to feel unappreciated and used.

Eventually, the family returns to their life in Paris. Nora visits and makes a shocking discovery about how she was indeed used in Sirena's artwork. As the story ends, Nora is enraged.
Best part of story, including ending: I loved this story because from the first page it built suspense and tension and I was never sure what any of the characters would do next.

Best scene in story: My favorite scene was when Nora returned to the art studio after avoiding Sirena all week and is surprised to find she has not been missed.

Opinion about the main character: The thing I liked most about Nora was how interesting and angry her voice was. It felt very real but that said, she was not a person I would want to spend time with in real life.

The review of this Book prepared by Bonnie a Level 2 American Robin scholar

Chapter Analysis of The Woman Upstairs

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   depressed Time/era of story    -   2000+ (Present Day) Life of a profession:    -   artist Internal struggle/realization?    -   Yes Struggle over    -   lonliness Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Job/Profession/Status story    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Female Profession/status:    -   artist Age:    -   40's-50's Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American)


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   5 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   France

Writing Style

Sex in book?    -   Yes What kind of sex:    -   actual description of hetero sex Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Claire Messud Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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