Monday, April 25, 2016

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

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.

Publisher: Touchstone | Release Date: March 2016 | Genre: Fiction | Source:  Publisher| Rating: 4 Cups

Challenges Read For: Pick Your Own Genre: Contemporary
Samantha Whipple is the last Brontë descendant. She’s also believed to be the heir to a hoard of long-lost Brontë treasures that the world would like to get their hands on. Before his death Samantha’s father and well-known author devoted his life to finding these treasures yet Samantha knows nothing about them. Although things begin to change when Samantha arrives at Oxford and her father’s collection of Brontë novels with his handwritten notes in the margins start arriving mysteriously. She now has the missing pieces to the treasure hunt, now all she needs is to figure out how to use them to unravel the mystery. With her professors help, Samantha starts unravelling the mysteries within the novels and begins to learn more about her father and herself.
Seeing as this was about the Brontës’ I knew I had to read it, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel. And while parts were a bit slow and other’s a bit predictable, I rather enjoyed this literary scavenger hunt.
Samantha wasn’t the easiest character to like. She’s very naïve. At times, even though she was the narrator, she was distant.  Her reasoning and her thought process is often outlandish.  And at times, she came off as a petulant child pretending to be an adult. She also uses witty comebacks rather than dealing with her problems. I spent most of the novel wanting to shake her and tell her to start behaving like an actual human adult.
Yet, I found that I really liked Samantha. Once you realize that Samantha was raised by a very eccentric father who was obsessed with decoding the Brontë novels, her odd behavior is actually understandable. She has a lot of life lessons to learn and a bit of growing up to do and it was fun watching her realize what she needs to do.
James Orville, her professor, was an interesting character. Even though the novel is told from Samantha’s POV, I found that I got a very good sense of who James was and I really liked him. He sort of has this Mr. Rochester thing going on—no, he doesn’t have a wife in the attic—yet, he’s broody, sometimes slightly arrogant, and like Rochester does with Jane, he challenges Samantha and isn’t afraid of making her realize there’s more going on than what she believes.
He also has a deep love/hate relationship with the Brontë family and their work and it was this that allowed Samantha to form a bond with him. And I really enjoyed his take on the novels.
There’s a romance that develops between Samantha and her professor, James Orville III. It’s a very slow building romance due to their professor/student relationship and I found that I really enjoyed watching it develop. He pushes her to think differently and she challenges him to be more open minded.
This novel is centers around Samantha unravelling a mystery that her father left her. Throughout the novel, she is searching for her inheritance, which her father called ‘The Warnings of Experience’. This search causes her to do some questionable things that makes sense given the way she was raised. I found the clues really interesting although as a Brontë fan, I had to question how Samantha, who was raised on the work of the  Brontës since birth, missed what was glaringly obvious. I picked up each clue from the very start.
So, this was an interesting novel. Although, I believe, for a reader to fully enjoy this novel, they need to have knowledge of both the work and the lives of the Brontës. Even though this book is set in the modern world with modern characters, the Brontës (and the characters they created) are almost like characters in this novel.
There’s a few things that I would have changed, such as expanding the ending to see more of the mature Samantha she became and to know what happened after her search.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It was very different from what I’ve read and I found myself unable to put it down.  The beginning did start slow, and Samantha’s narration takes a bit of getting used to, yet fans of the Brontë family and their work will find to be a delightful tale. Although if you do read this, be patient with Samantha, she has a bit growing to do.  

Do you have a favorite Brontë novel?

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