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The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

The Madwoman Upstairs

by Catherine Lowell

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2231752,123 (3.6)34



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In the massively popular vein of reimagining classics in a modern setting, The Madwoman Upstairs tackles the Brontë canon with vigor, albeit somewhat haphazardly. Anyone with an interest in the rather infamously short, tragic lives of the Brontë sisters or in the different ways we interpret and find meaning in literature will have an appreciation for Catherine Lowell's debut novel. While a work of fiction centering on Samantha Whipple, the last remaining modern-day descendant of the Brontë family, Lowell's novel brims with unique anecdotes concerning the lives and works of the sisters. Of particular interest are the refreshingly fun alternative interpretations offered regarding the Brontës and their novels.

The Madwoman Upstairs is narrated by twenty-year-old Samantha as she sets out for London to study literature at the legendary Old College fives year following the tragic death of her father, a renowned writer and notoriously emotionally elusive man. However, from day one she seems doomed to stumble at every turn as she is, on account of a housing shortage, effectively banished to a windowless tower also occupied by a haunting portrait of a drowned governess. Shortly after Samantha settles in, her father's personal copies of the Brontë sisters' novels begin appearing in her tower room, all of which she thought perished in the fire that took her father's life. Sent on a bizarre treasure hunt for her inheritance orchestrated by the father she's still struggling to understand, Samantha boomerangs wildly from one emotional extreme to another. Also headlining: James Timothy Orville III, the stereotypically sexy yet painfully aloof professor, and Samantha's horribly bad attitude about literally everything.

Lowell's writing style in and of itself is an adventure as she employs extravagant metaphors and amusing literary devices. While at times odd, it does add a level of spunk to the occasionally difficult to stomach first-person narrative she chose for this novel. The protagonist is herself a very peculiar, almost socially inept individual who can be quite tedious to read. While I dearly loved the setting of academia, the premise of a literary scavenger hunt, and the fascinating exploration of the Brontës, The Madwoman Upstairs was ultimately very slow to develop and, despite being abundantly charming, ultimately left me underwhelmed. ( )
  GennaC | May 9, 2017 |
Last heir of the Brontë family plus a mysterious "lost treasure" sought by reporters and scholars alike - certainly a worthwhile concept, and the makings for a fun, quick read. ( )
  JBD1 | May 2, 2017 |
And here comes the "real review" or technically speaking me trying to write something that isn't 100% gushing over how much I love the book and failing completely...

Samantha Whipple is a bright young girl whose loss of her father a couple of years ago still pains her a lot. She is however not an orphan, her mother lives in Paris. But Samantha has always had a closer relationship with her father than her mother. So living without him is tough for her. Especially since they also shared another thing in common. They are both descendants of the Brontë family. And, now she is the last one. Now she has enrolled in Oxford to study and it's at Oxford her father's last will and testament will be carried out. If she just could piece together all the clues...

This book is so freaking good that I want to go out and buy a hardcover of it because I want to hug it and hugging my Ipad is just not the same thing (It's a bit too metallic and can be a bit cold to hug). Loved it from page 1 to the last page.

The sentence above is what I wrote after I finished the book (well a cleaned the sentence up a bit since I used a bad word instead of freaking) and it pretty much summons up my feelings towards the book. I have read many great books this year, but this one, oh this one is like a delicious pie that just gets better the more you eat it. And, the best thing is that you don't have to feel stuffed and no weight gain. In short, this is a book that makes one happy, at least, it left me happy. I just totally adore the book. And, I haven't even read all Brontë books, just Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights, and I even don't like Jane Eyre. But, that doesn't matter because the book is so well-written. Also, you really don't need any previous knowledge of the books before you read the book, sure they are discussed in The Madwoman Upstairs, but not in a way that makes you feel lost.

Samantha Whipple is without a doubt one of the greatest characters ever created. She's incredibly witty and I read through this book chuckling and smiling like a lunatic. This is the kind of book that has an amazingly good storyline, fantastic characters, and awesome dialogue. Her banter with Orville her Oxford tutor are especially very good. And, speaking of Orville, he is such a great, great man. I don't want to give away the plot, but the mystery of her father's testament together with her "relationship" with Orville makes this book fantastic!

I loved this book. It's worth thousands of stars. Read it!

I want to thank the publisher for providing me with a free copy through NetGalley for an honest review.


This book is so fucking good that I want to go out and buy a hardcover of it because I want to hug it and hugging my Ipad is just not the same thing (It's a bit too metallic and can be a bit cold to hug). Loved it from page 1 to the last page and now I don't know what to do with myself...

This book turned out to be a freaking love story and I loved it! And, I'm just usually that fond of romantic books, but I all through this book I just wanted the main characters to hook up...

Will try to write a review when I have calmed down...

Read this review and others on A Bookaholic Swede ( )
  MaraBlaise | Apr 14, 2017 |
[The Madwoman Upstairs] by Catherine Lowell 3.75

The last descendant of the the famous Brontë family is hounded by the press, who think that there is a vast hidden treasure trove of artifacts and manuscripts that Samantha Whipple is hiding from the world. Samantha wants to be left alone to pursue her academics at Oxford University. And deal with the death of her eccentric, loving father. Then "an old novel, annotated inner father's handwriting" shows up at her doorstep. "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."

Samantha is a prickly, precocious character, who grew on me throughout the book. The start is a little too cold, a little too academic, but it soon works its way to a wonderful blend of storyline and literary criticism and theory. I loved all the references to my favorites by the Brontës, as well as insight into their pasts. I have read very little about their private lives. There are discussion of Frederick Douglas' work, Henry James, and so many other great authors. And I love the writing: "To no one's surprise, governesses ended up comprising a large potion of lunatic asylum residents. Certainly Henry James had known this when he wrote the [The Turn of the Screw]; certainly Charlotte Brontë knew this when she wrote [Jane Eyre]. There was a very thin line between a governess and madness, so much so that the thing being "governed" often became madness itself. The majority of governesses were left to die alone, go insane, or else write books about the happy ending they never had." (82) Tongue in cheek, witty, thought-provoking and fun, with just a little romance. Recommended. ( )
1 vote Berly | Mar 11, 2017 |
Joy's review: The last descendant of the Bronte sisters, goes to Oxford, comes to terms with her legacy and her deceased father, while searching for her inheritance. Light and entertaining, I found myself thinking much more positively about this book after our book club discussion and hearing what the fans of this book had to say. Made me wish I'd listened to the discussion first so I could read the book as a metaphor for how to approach literature. As it was, with fiction that references 'real' people, I found myself constantly wondering what was fiction and what was history. So, for me, no more fictionalized accounts of actual people! ( )
  konastories | Feb 23, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
"This is an entertaining and ultimately sweet story, but it’s best if you don’t think about it too hard."
added by ablachly | editKirkus Reviews (Mar 1, 2016)
Even without its attraction for Brontë-philes, however, this is an enjoyable academic romp that successfully combines romance and intrigue, one that benefits from never taking itself too seriously.
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To my beautiful parents
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The night I arrived at Oxford, I learned that my dorm room was built in 1361 and had originally been used to quarantine victims of the plague.
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