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Monday, February 29, 2016

My review of The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell


About the book:

In this smart and enthralling debut in the spirit of The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family's long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind.

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. 

My review:

While I don't typically read mystery-type books, this one intrigued me because of the Gothic setting and description. For one,  I enjoy reading debut authors because they often have a new and interesting voice. This one is filled with quick wit and dry humor.  I've not read any of the Bronte sisters' novels, but I have seen Jane Eyre on film. I enjoyed the verbal banter and the arguments Samantha had with the intellectuals from Oxford, and with Orville in particular. The one core lesson I learned by reading this story is that sometimes challenging people makes them grow, and for that reason, it's a good thing to be a student and not always the "expert" in your own mind.

This novel has a literary fiction "feel" to the writing style. Sometimes I like that and sometimes I don't. In this case I enjoyed it because it centered around the main character's introspection into her family and her experiences. The story was more about learning about oneself and the joys and disappointments in life (that Samantha discovered about herself while residing in the tower at Oxford) than about the Bronte sisters, though their books were certainly a core theme and discussed a lot as part of the novel. 

I didn't think the story was as fast paced as described, but it held my interest and I read it fairly quickly. There were some poignant moments and I loved how Samantha finally allowed herself to feel some of her pain. I think sometimes when you are most vulnerable, you are also the most attractive. The story had a few curse words sprinkled in, but there was nothing I'd describe as offensive. I'd give it a PG rating for those who are discerning and concerned about content before they choose a new author or novel. The book releases tomorrow, and if you like English settings with academic and literary fiction at the core of the mystery, you'll enjoy this book.  

The Madwoman Upstairs was published by Touchstone books and releases March 1, 2016.

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