The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell – review

Published by Quercus

Publication date 20 April 2017

Source – 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.

Samantha Whipple, recently enrolled at Oxford University finds herself surrounded and followed by her past. Still struggling to overcome the death of her father she is also on the hunt for her inheritance, hinted at by her eccentric father. It would appear to be connected to her ancestors, as so much of her life is. It just so happens that those ancestors are the Brontës…

Being a huge fan of Jane Eyre, and having just visited the Bronte parsonage I thought it was high time I read this book.

This is a fun take on the Brontës, using them as a narrative device to propel the mystery of Samantha Whipple’s inheritance and her hunt for it. Samantha has travelled over from the United States to study at Oxford and finds herself shut away in a tower room with no windows and an austere portrait looking over her. To top it off, her room is a stop on the tourist trail. Then there is her tutor, James Orville III. He’s taciturn, provocative and Samantha finds herself begin to become attracted to him.

The mystery of the missing inheritance is less about finding an item and more about Samantha finding herself and learning more about her father. She finds her attitudes towards Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë changing as Orville challenges her entrenched views on the sisters.

At times the novel feels like a dissertation, with it’s definite views on various works of literature peppering the narration. However I liked the literary discussions and thought the setting of Oxford worked well. I was a little disappointed with how Samantha reacted to her visit to the parsonage in Haworth, though this may be because I had just visited and had the complete opposite reaction.

This is more a story that examines literature and it’s subjective nature, rather than a love story or a mystery. It made me want to read more of the Bronte s works which can only be a good thing.

Whilst the slightly ambiguous ending left me a little flat, this novel was an enjoyable read and a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

About the author:

Catherine Lowell received her BA in Creative Writing from Stanford University and currently lives in New York City.The Madwoman Upstairs is her first novel.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I have this on my TBR pile. It interested me before (obviously or I wouldn’t have bought it) but you’ve made it sound even more so.


    1. janetemson says:

      I found it easy to read and read it quite quickly. I’d had it on the pile for ages but thought it opportune to read it after my visit to the parsonage. I hope you like it if you read it 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.