Review: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Think you know Charlotte, Emily & Anne? Think again.
Samantha Whipple is the last remaining descendent of the illustrious Brontë family, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame.
After losing her father, a brilliant author in his own right, it is up to Samantha to piece together the mysterious family inheritance lurking somewhere in her past – yet the only clues she has at her disposal are the Brontë’s own novels.
With the aid of her handsome but inscrutable Oxford tutor, Samantha must repurpose the tools of literature to unearth an untold family legacy, and in the process, finds herself face to face with what may be literature’s greatest secret.
This novel was brought to my attention by the numerous other book bloggers who were praising it and as a huge Brontë fan I was keen to read it and find out the mystery that this book had to reveal. Unfortunately this was one of those books that left me feeling I had read a different book to everyone else.
Our narrator Samantha is one of the most disagreeable characters I’ve come across in a long time, I literally found nothing about her I could warm to. Having grown up in Boston she admits early on in the book she doesn’t like any authors, she hates pretty much all books and all the questions she is asked about literature she answers in such a childlike way it absolutely defeats me how even as a Brontë descendent she got a place at Oxford because there is no way any University, especially one as elite as Oxford would accept somebody as dense as Samantha onto a literature degree.
Once you get over this hurdle the fact that she is narrating this novel means you have a novel with a very British setting, focused on the most British of families with one of the most crass American narrators I’ve come across, her language is as American as it gets and there is nothing British and no attempt to assimilate to living in Britain and adapting to the language over her time in the country. For a British focused novel it’s very American.
At one point another character referred to Samantha as previously having been a spoiled little teenager and I think this sums her up well, although no longer a teenager this is how she acts and comes across. The romance element of the book is tiresome and her love interest is almost as annoying as her. There appears to be some moral lesson trying to be taught here about relationships between students and their teachers but ultimately the relationship itself is enough to put people off!
There is a huge amount of Brontë history in this novel, as someone who has studied the Brontë’s in quite a lot of detail I found this quite laborious to wade through the mix of factual history which was written in the crass voice of our narrator, Samantha. I think this must have made up a good quarter of the book and some of it felt quite unnecessary to the overall story, maybe it would be interesting to people who don’t know much about the Brontë’s and it was unfortunate that I was a reader who knows quite a lot about the family and their books.
What kept me reading was the literary mystery, Catherine Lowell, weaved theories from the history of the Brontë’s and clues from books to create a very interesting mystery. I really feel a lot more could have been made from this. This was the story that could have popped and been the mainstay of the whole book. At times it felt there was far to much going on when this storyline should have been front and centre.
In the end after a really good build up the resolution to this storyline was a bit of an anti-climax and a little disappointing. It felt a bit too real-life. Maybe that was the point but after such a surreal storyline and the bizarreness of the entire book of unreality the fact the big reveal left me a bit “Oh OK”
Overall, I think this book will very much suit people interested in the Brontë’s but not necessarily knowledgeable about them as I think there’s a lot to get from this, especially if you want something to whet your appetite for picking up the Brontë novels. I don’t think people with much detailed knowledge or those who have studied them in detail as I have will get as much from this novel.
A huge thanks to Catherine Lowell and Quercus for the ARC via NetGalley to provide an honest review of this novel.
Rating: 2 of 5 Stars
Title: The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery
Publication Date: 1 March 2016
Review Format: eBook
Other Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, Audio CD
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