In Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, her protagonist Nora Eldridge is an angry woman. ‘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,’ she rages, in an opening salvo that is both a riff on her own goodness and a defiant ‘fuck you’ to a callous world.
The Emperor’s Children (2006), the novel that made Messud’s reputation, traces the history of aspirational thirty-year-olds in Manhattan prior to and after the events of 9/11. Told from multiple viewpoints, it is impressive for its insight into the motivation of a wide range of characters. Although equally perceptive about human