Sunday 6 March 2016


The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell.
Published by Quercus.
Release date: 3rd March 2016.
Source: Quercus, UK hardback review copy.

Think you know Charlotte, Emily & Anne? Think again. 
Samantha Whipple is the last remaining descendent of the illustrious Brontë family, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame. After losing her father, a brilliant author in his own right, it is up to Samantha to piece together the mysterious family inheritance lurking somewhere in her past - yet the only clues she has at her disposal are the Brontë's own novels. With the aid of her handsome but inscrutable Oxford tutor, Samantha must repurpose the tools of literature to unearth an untold family legacy, and in the process, finds herself face to face with what may be literature's greatest secret.

Catherine Lowell's The Madwoman Upstairs is a madcap literary adventure that had me completely absorbed from start to finish. It's an interesting mix of genres with a romantic-comedy plotline weaving through the core mystery. Lowell also explores issues of identity and family through Samantha's quest to find out the truth about her ancestors and get to the bottom of her turbulent relationship with her late father.

Although Samantha's characterisation was slightly confused at times, I really enjoyed her inner monologue and often found myself laughing out loud at her sharp, humorous commentary: '"There is one thing I'm curious about,' he said, as we neared what was either the end of the tutorial or the end of time.' 

I do feel like the romantic relationship in the novel was problematic. Samantha is instantly infatuated with her tutor, despite the fact that he is often rude and insulting and shows nothing but disdain for her thoughts and opinions. I found Samantha's obsession with her tutor to be frustrating and felt that it detracted somewhat from the strength of her characterisation and the Brontë plotline. This kind of emotionally abusive relationship is a popular trope in contemporary novels (Fifty shades much?!) but it's just not something I can get on board with.

It was interesting to see an American's perspective of Britain, and at times Lowell perfectly captured the humongous sense of history beneath the paved streets and the oddities and eccentricities of the British people who inhabit them. 

The Madwoman Upstairs offers some brilliant, in-depth literary theory on the work of the Brontës. It is clear that this is a subject that Lowell is passionate about and the novel is a tremendous tribute to their lives and their work. As a former literature student myself, I particularly enjoyed the novel's exploration of authorial intent through the debates of it's characters and Lowell offers some really compelling insight into the line between reality and fiction.

Overall, The Madwoman Upstairs passionately celebrates the enduring legacy of the Brontës and is a captivating and entertaining read.

The Madwoman Upstairs is published by Quercus and is available now online and from all good bookshops.

*I received this book for free from Quercus in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*

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