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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Review: Madam

Title: Madam
Author: Phoebe Wynne 

Publisher: 1th May 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 435 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: mystery, gothic, thriller

My Rating: 4 crowns


For 150 years, Caldonbrae Hall has loomed high above the Scottish cliffs as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. A boarding school for girls, it promises that its pupils will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’.

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher and new head of department. Rose is overwhelmed by the institution: its arcane traditions, unrivalled prestige, and terrifyingly cool, vindictive students. Her classroom becomes her haven, where the stories of fearless women from ancient Greek and Roman history ignite the curiosity of the girls she teaches and, unknowingly, the suspicions of the powers that be.

But as Rose uncovers the darkness that beats at the very heart of Caldonbrae, the lines between myth and reality grow ever more blurred. It will be up to Rose – and the fierce young women she has come to love – to find a way to escape the fate the school has in store for them, before it is too late.

My Thoughts

If the speculative fiction of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ intrigues you, then Phoebe Wynne’s debut novel is something you may be interested in. Set in a remote Scotlish peninsula on cliff tops high above the sea, the scene is well and truly set for a gothic style mystery.

‘This place is all about traditions, honour, rules .... which means what? Turning a blind eye when things go wrong?'

Caldonbrae Hall, a prestigious girls boarding school with a long history of tradition, has just hired a new teacher which had not happened for a decade. Whilst excited to be honoured with such a position as the new Head of Classics, it does not take long for Rose to realise all is not what it seems. Phoebe provides puzzle pieces, slowly revealing and inviting her readers to start putting them together to reveal the truth behind the closed doors of Caldonbrae Hall.

The setting is, of course, perfect for the unfolding thriller - the Scottish wilds - with tumultuous storms and even the historic Hall itself lending to the vibe with secret passageways and winding hallways. I found the inclusion of Greek mythology through Rose’s position as Classics teacher to be clever. It enriches the story with excerpts from the Classics - strong women such as Medusa and Boudicca - and how they cleverly can reflect and inspire the present day events.

‘Classics is more than language - more than history, literature and society. It's an entire culture and philosophy, a civilisation that we still continue to imitate today, without even realising it.' She faced him properly. 'It's the study of people. And sometimes, I understand the Greek and Roman civilisations more than I do our own.’

Although the story takes place in the 1990s, due to the remote location and way the school is run, it feels like it should be from a different era. Yet, I guess that is what the author was after - a place that possibly stopped in time? Although I wished for some characters to be developed further, it really is an impressive debut that will keep you guessing as to how events will ultimately unfold. Embrace both the gothic and thrilling premise of what could possibly be going on behind elitist closed doors. 

‘Sometimes as women, we have to rescue ourselves, instead of expecting someone else to.' Rose sat forward. She realised she felt bolder with the storm still in her skin. That's the best thing a woman can do - learn how to rescue herself, without the need of a man; without the need of anyone.’        


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

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