Or perhaps the book is more nuanced than I suspect:
Nora Eldridge, a US primary school teacher, is single and 37 when her story begins and has also grasped that 37 is an age of reckoning: ‘The time at which you have to acknowledge that your life has a horizon… that you will never be president, or a millionaire, and if you’re a childless woman, you will quite possibly remain that way.’
Eldridge has other cultural touchstones: an artist in her spare time, she is making a miniature version of Emily Dickinson’s bedroom, while she is also possessed by the Chekhov short story The Black Monk. Her name, too, is a clear reference to Nora from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, while the novel’s title, The Woman Upstairs, could be read as a riff on the Victorian cultural obsession with the mad woman in the attic.
In other words, Messud has written a novel not just about a single childless woman in her late thirties, but how women who live alone, or who are trapped by their domestic lives, have been represented – and thus further trapped – throughout history. Nora, bright, educated, and stingingly self aware, is alert to this too.