I must start this review with a confession: I have never read anything by any of the Brontës. I have at least one book by each sister, but they have remained untouched all these years because of something Charlotte Brontë said about Jane Austen. Having lived quite an intense Austen phase, I took it personally and have been avoiding them ever since. The copies I own? I inherited them. That said…
I found The Madwoman Upstairs’ premise to be exceptionally promising.
A literary scavenger hunt that takes the protagonist, the last Brontë descendant, to the mysterious world of Oxford?
I mean, where do I sign up?
Sadly, I believe The Madwoman Upstairs promised more than it delivered.
My first problem was Samantha Whipple, the descendant. At first she came across as arrogant, juvenile and way too full of herself. She was honestly starting to get on my nerves. Her voice took too much space, was too loud and frantic, too irritating… but I was intrigued. I don’t know about you, but I usually have a hard time letting go of literary conspiracies. I find them… bewitching. Also, I rarely give up on books. I usually give them infinite chances to surprise me. How can I not when even I bore and irritate myself to death at times?
Yes, it was hard for me to bond with Sam, to listen beyond the constant whining. However, I believe she comes across as full of herself because that’s exactly the portrait she wants the reader to paint of her at the beginning. I think it’s a self-defense mechanism. She feels empty, weak, at loss… Her father was her everything. Her father gave her meaning, he was her meaning (or so she thought). Losing him meant losing herself. Losing him like she did, it felt almost like an affront to her existence.
Reading The Madwoman Upstairs reminded me of the experience of watching The DaVinci Code after having read the book. It feels as if someone decided to skip a few scenes and press fast forward. There was so much space for development… but I do believe the ending does open all the doors and windows. Now it’s up to the reader, to us.
All in all I found it to be a rather entertaining and interesting reading. I absolutely adored the literature discussions. It made me want to return to university. Also, as weird as this might sound, I think I am finally ready to read the Brontës.
As for Catherine Lowell, I applaud her. I believe it’s not easy to write a character like Sam. I think it takes courage.
ARC provided by Quercus Books via NetGalley.