Book Review: The Madwoman Upstairs

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Title: The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Pub date: 2016
ISBN: 978-1501126307

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First impressions: A wholly unique tale of the last remaining fictional survivor of the Bronte family, their legacy, as well as her grief of loss, a tiny bit of romance, and a mystery to bring closure to very important things(tm). I was captivated by the story and found myself falling in love with Samantha Whipple within the first few pages. An engaging and clever read that I was ultimately disappointed it had to end.


Whenever I read a book review on an upcoming or new published book, “unique,” “original,” or “clever” get thrown around a lot which makes me pucker my lips. I’m a firm believer there is rarely any “unique,” “original,” or “clever” works.

Reader, I was wrong. (I was so wrong, the next book I review also is unique, original, and clever.)

Samantha Whipple is a first year at Old College, Oxford University. Her mother left their family when she was a teen, her beloved father had recently died, and she was the last inheritor to the Bronte legacy only there isn’t a legacy to be inherited and if there is, no one in the Whipple family have any idea what it is despite the insistance of Bronte scholars and academics.  Even with the romance as one of the subjects, this book is not chick lit or a romance but it is a woman’s story of how she works through grief, romantic love, academia, redemption, and finally forgiveness.

The Madwoman Upstairs was published a few years ago but it’s only recently I’ve seen it pop up in my internet reads as comparisons to new Bronte related fiction. I had a blase attitude towards it—the summary does the book no favors but once I got into the story, I became obsessed with finishing the book ASAP. Samantha is feisty, snarky, and in emotional pain—all the things I, and perhaps many, can relate to. Her relationship with her mother is fraught as she reconciles her mother’s relationship with not only her own but with Samantha’s father. Samantha is academically gifted and is often compared to her father who was a brilliant novelist and academic but gives two nothings about her place in academia.

Then there is the Bronte legacy.

The Madwoman Upstairs is many things and surprisingly does not get lost in its many things, but its heart is a mystery of Samantha reconciling and understanding her father more after his death and the dogged pursuit of Bronte scholars absolutely intent on the Whipple family to cough up an imaginary legacy. Samantha is on the hunt for the last remaining pieces of her father’s life, set up as a treasure hunt reminiscent of her childhood, and as she digs deeper into the mystery, Samantha not only learns much about her father and family but also about herself.

It’s rare for a debut to come out of the gate so strong with a finely tuned plot, the writing is sharp and clever (I tell you, I live for Samantha’s dialogue), and there is not a word wasted. At times the story is heart-breaking and uproarious and if you enjoy Bronte related fiction it’s a book not to be missed.