The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Review - the madwoman upstairs
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family—a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from her past begin rematerializing in her life, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha plunges into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by repurposing the tools of literature and decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own novels.

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Reviewer: Gina

Rating: 2 1/2 stars

When I first read the blurb of this book, I was really excited. I wanted to love the story. Being from the U.K, fiction set here holds a special place in my heartland I love wrapping myself in a story that resonates with the familiar. But I didn’t recognise my country in this book. The usual feelings of being at home in British book were absent.

I didn’t warm to Samantha Whipple, the main character, because I found her self-absorbed, overly self-important, and unhinged. I think the craziness she exuded was deliberate on the part of the author, and would probably be attributed to the character’s unconventional upbringing. Still, I found myself with little patience for her ‘special snowflake’ attitude, although I did feel some sympathy that he entire world revolved around being a Brontë descendent.

Parts of the book read as though the author had interspersed her plot with persuasive essays and opinion pieces on the Brontë writings and, for the most part, I feel the actual story suffered for this. Professor James Orville remained a family two dimensional character until approximately 80% through, there only to serve as a polar view to Samantha’s.

Some of the ‘facts’ presented throughout the story are contradicted by other sources I have read, but this might be due to those things being what Samantha believes, rather than the author presenting them as truth – particularly when she described picturesque Haworth as “a prehistoric hellhole”.

I didn’t pick up this book expecting an autobiography of the Brontë sisters, but I have found it very difficult to read the blending and blurring with fact and fiction in this way and retain my comfortable state of suspended disbelief.

I fully believe I am probably not the intended audience for this book as I struggled to relate to the good reviews and praise I read for it, and my own review is entirely subjective. That said, the writing was sound and the first person narration was perfectly unreliable, although I remain confused as to whether this is true adult fiction, or new adult fiction with a protagonist coning of age and having her first life experiences as an adult. The unexpected thread of romance that seems to be introduced in the last 15% or so doesn’t have significant indicators in the earlier book, unfortunately, so I have finished reading mostly unsure what to make of it all.

I was issued a free copy of this book on NetGalley in return for an honest review.