Sunday, July 07, 2019

Madwoman Upstairs

The Madwoman Upstairs / Catherine Lowell
New York: Touchstone, 2016.
368 p.
This was a random book I found on my library's bookshelves while I was pulling books for another purpose entirely the other day. I looked at it and thought, how did I miss this? The Brontes, academia and literary scavenger hunts, and quirky romantic storytelling? It's for me! 

So I brought it home and read it in a day. It was entertaining, funny, and a good escapist read. On reflection I can think of a bunch of problems with it -- the narrator is a bit of a pill, the scavenger hunt isn't really a hunt, and the romance has major issues in it, mainly that it's a teacher/student one. 

But I enjoyed reading it. It was fun, often predictable plot-wise, but a quick, clever, engaging read that has me wanting to reread Jane Eyre and try out some of Anne Bronte's usually overlooked novels. The part of this book I enjoyed most was the discussion of the Brontes, and the floating of some theories about their family and their writing, and the strong opposition from the main character to the idea that their belongings will illuminate anything about them. (funnily enough, the book that Goodreads recommended to me alongside this title was an academic look at exactly that topic!) 

As to the story itself: Samantha Whipple is apparently the last remaining descendant of the Bronte family. Somehow she gets into Oxford, and is put into a creepy tower room. Her tutor is a shockingly young and good looking man who is also completely sarcastic and overbearing in a British, curmudgeonly way. Of course you know that he's going to be the romantic lead right away -- why else would they be so rude to one another immediately (definitely a trope that needs to be retired). 

He's also connected to Samantha in ways that she doesn't figure out until the end, although the reader will have figured it out long before. There are complications in Samantha's past; her mother left her family when Sam was young, and she was then raised by her complicated, drunken writer of a father. Homeschooled too, which adds to her social awkwardness. Though I didn't really buy her character, it felt constructed rather than organic. 

In any case, she has to figure out the apparent Bronte legacy that she's been left, and figure out her life in general. I really loved the Oxford and Bronte bits, liked the backstory, and wanted to like the romance. Alas, the fact that he was her tutor ruined it for me in this contemporary setting. The reflection of Jane and Rochester was clear but the setup doesn't carry over to the modern world, at least not for me. 

Still, I had a lot of fun reading this, and am now interested in looking up some Bronte scholarship to see what she made up and what she pulled from current theory. It was entertaining and amusing, which was just what I needed from it. 


  1. This one sounds like a lot of fun!

    1. A really entertaining read for sure :)

  2. I'm glad you found this book entertaining and amusing. Sometimes books we decide to read randomly are lots of fun.

    1. Perhaps it's because we don't have any expectations going in!


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