In a novel that has become a litmus test for gender tensions, Messud takes her reader into the ferocious sensibility of a woman spurned. "How angry am I? You don't want to know," she writes in her opening lines. The real story is in the flashback, as Nora, a single 43-year-old Cambridge, Massachusetts, teacher describes her infatuation with the Paris-based Shahid family. Their year in Cambridge initiates her jarring midlife crisis.
Reza Shahid, eight years old and a new child in Nora's class, arouses maternal yearnings. Beirut-born Skandar, a Harvard fellow, challenges her libido and her intellect. And Sirena, whose installations have drawn international attention, revives her artistic ambitions.
In a "manic unfolding", Nora begins a series of miniature dioramas, beginning with Emily Dickinson. The radiant center of Messud's novel is her portrait of two artists - Nora, with her American "good girl" inhibitions, and fearless Sirena, who teaches her that an artist is, by definition, ruthless. (Knopf)