I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Review: The Madwoman Upstairs

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
The Madwoman Upstairs
by Catherine Lowell
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she's rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë's literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts; a hidden fortune that's never been shown outside of the family.

But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn't exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible; namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.

But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father's handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world's greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë's own writing.

A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, this vibrant and original novel is a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.


Being a Brontë fan, and more specifically a Jane Eyre fan, I appreciated how deeply rooted this story is in the Brontë oeuvre.  There are so many overt and subtle references to the Brontës' work - with quotes, with the story's structure, and the characterizations.  It was intriguing to read how it all came together in this fast-pace story.  It's also a brilliantly plotted work, with mystery, tragedy and a sort of sharp, abrasive kind of romance.

In many ways this novel gave me a lot to think about.  The main character, Samantha, is somewhat unlikable - prickly, brooding and prone to dislike everything which annoyed me sometimes, but I did sympathize with her.  Except for her hostility towards the Brontës.  Often it seemed over the top, and uncalled for - blame laid on what she thought she knew about the famous family.  But as the novel develops, she comes to understand more about herself and see her memories in a different light.  It's interesting how this novel plays on fiction vs. reality and blurs the lines between what is important and how real one is versus the other.  The novel has the feel of an academic study made into a human experience.  And for that, I personally found this novel hard to connect to, but I also admire it for the way it tells it's story.

It was also intriguing to read how all of the characters in the novel were characterized.  They all had flaws, all made mistakes, and all of them were unlikable in different ways.  The stories I like to read have a redemptive quality about them, and that was lacking in this book.  Not that it's a fault, because it suits the story, but it just puts a distance between me and this book on an emotional level.  I want to stress that, because I know it's a personal preference and it might be appealing to other readers.

I mentioned the romance earlier, but it is not a big feature of the story - it is a very slow-burn one, that is never really made obvious until the novel is almost over.  Even though it's there on a very low level, it helps to lift an otherwise very speculative and conceptual story about what it means to have a legacy like the Brontës' have, and if their real lives matter in comparison to the immortality of their work.  And really how that relates to all authors and to fiction in general.

This was an extremely thought-provoking book and a fast-paced, engaging read despite my issues with some of the characters.  If you are interested in the Brontës this might be a good read for you (however even the Brontës are not portrayed in the best light) but it's full of fascinating viewpoints regardless.

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review.  I was not compensated for this review.)

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