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Friday, March 4, 2016

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Title: The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Publisher: 8 March 2016 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 407 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction (adult), contemporary, mystery, about books, romance
My Rating: 5 crowns

Think you know all about Charlotte, Emily and Anne? Think again.

Samantha Whipple - a young American woman - is the last remaining descendant of the famous Brontë family, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame. After losing her father, a brilliant author in his own right, Samantha travels to Oxford in search of a mysterious family inheritance, described to her only as 'The Warnings of Experience'.

While at Oxford, Samantha studies under Dr J. Timothy Orville III, a disarmingly handsome tutor who seems nothing but annoyed by her family heritage. With Orville as her tempestuous sidekick, Samantha sets out on a mission to piece together her family's history - which, it turns out, could also be literature's greatest buried secret.

A witty modern love story that draws from the enduringly popular classics.

My Thoughts

"Do you think that Charlotte Bronte invented the madwoman in Rochester's tower? ... I had an inkling that the madwoman in the attic was not quite as fictional as the world might have hoped."

WOW! What a complete surprise and amazing read. I shall try my best to convey how I was absolutely enraptured with this novel, however suffice to say, if you are a Bronte fan this is a MUST.READ! I did not expect to be so taken with it, but I was, and availed myself of every available opportunity to read. Such fascinating literary discussions - this book nerd was in heaven! I felt like I was back at university highlighting passage after passage, or at the very least, my Year 12 English class having rich literary discussions. Oh joy! 

"... the ones who believed in the sanctity of a text and judged a novel based only on the words on the page ... Dad, to him, books were living breathing things. Once a book left the brain of the author, it took on a life of its own, and served as the only liaison between the reader and the author."

All things said, this really is such an entertaining and witty novel that takes the works of the three Bronte sisters, has an academia backdrop and pursues a literary treasure hunt. The main lead, Samantha has grown up living in the shadows of her Bronte ancestry and now, with her beloved father dead she is off to Oxford to study literature. 

"I once again tipped my hat to my three dead female ancestors. Even in the grave they managed to exert a power I could not."

I really enjoyed Samantha’s character: she was funny yet charming, awkward and a loner. You will love her sarcasm and humour - she is a fabulous lead and this must all be attributed to Lowell and her amazing style. What a debut. Her romance with Orville was very ‘Bronte-ish’.

"I did not ask whether you are literate. I asked why you are studying English literature. What do you imagine it will provide you?"


It's been many years since I delved into a Bronte novel and this had me running back to my collection as memories came flooding back. To fully appreciate the inferencing and homage paid to the Brontes' in this book, it would be beneficial to be in some way familiar with Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It will enhance your appreciation of the depth of research and commentary that Lowell has undertaken. However, it is not essential - the book is that good. 

The history of these particular writers was a history of censorship. Their work was defined not by what they wrote, but by what they had been forced to cut out."

Samantha attempts to make sense of what these books mean via the clues left behind by her father. She wants to make sense of these literary works, her legacy, and in doing so reconcile her past in an effort to become her own person. Gosh, I love books about books and I love the Bronte’s novels. 

If you love literature and the Bronte sisters, with a touch of mystery and romance, then this is the novel for you. It is quirky and wonderful, totally compelling as I lost myself in the well written prose. It will give you pause to ponder the reasons why and how we read. 

"We force ourselves to acknowledge what did exist in the Brontes' world: generations of women, who, silent and confined, reined in their passions and lived a life of seclusion."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

1 comment:

Mystica said...

Sounds intriguing