Let’s begin with the synopsis as I gush over this book…
In this smart and enthralling debut in the spirit of The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind.
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she’s rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë’s literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts; a hidden fortune that’s never been shown outside of the family.
But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn’t exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible; namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.
But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. 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. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë’s own writing.
A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, this vibrant and original novel is a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.
As a person who seldom re-reads novels I am always amazed when I do read a book which upon finishing immediately wonder when I will read it again. The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell was absolutely delightful! A few days ago I found myself picking up books, reading a few chapters and then picking up another one all the while knowing that all I truly wanted was a gothic story. I was thinking about re-reading Jane Eyre as I usually do when this feeling comes over me when I noticed this cover on a publisher’s Instagram feed. Naturally, I jumped on Goodreads to find out what this beautiful book was about. To my delight I had found a book that was not only gothic but was about the descendant of the Bronte sisters! The next morning I rushed over to Chapters Indigo and grabbed a copy. As usual I stood in the aisle and read the first page and I was immediately sucked in.
The story is about Samantha Whipple, a twenty year old descendant of the Bronte girls, whose father has passed away and left little clues to her inheritance for her to find, something equivalent to a literature scavenger hunt. She enrols in a literature program at Oxford University where the majority of the novel takes place. Samantha as a character was a witty, funny eccentric loner. I absolutely loved the journey she takes to discover who she is, who her father was and ultimately who her ancestors were. At the University she meets her tutor (professor) named Dr James Timothy Percival Orville III, Orville for short, who is mysterious and intriguing. No spoilers here but the banter between the two of them made me laugh out loud!
Next, the tone of this novel was perfect! Gothic and dark but funny and sarcastic at the same time. I am a huge fan of books that are essentially about books (i.e.: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Thirteeth Tale by Dianne Setterfield, etc) and this one was right up my alley. From the start Sam finds herself at the Universities oldest room on campus that is actually in a tower with no windows! Just imagine, my skin is crawling with the excitement of it, bringing back subtle comparisons to Jane Eyre.
The nods to the all the Bronte novels is seamlessly integrated into the story. Catherine Lowell articulates each of their writing without being too repetitive. I especially enjoyed her in depth look at the youngest sister, Anne Bronte, who was over-shadowed by her eldest sister. The one thing that was strange was you never really know who Samantha’s favourite author is or if she really liked any authors at all. Almost as if her passion for books was not fuelled through her love of reading but her love for her father and trying to decipher who he truly was. After previously reading two duds this book was like a fresh breath of air! I recommend it for all Bronte, gothic novel loving fans.
Some of my favourite lines and snippets.
I blinked. Wasn’t the tutorial over? Besides, I had lied. Frederick Douglas was not my favourite author. He was my father’s. Dad always said that Douglass’s Narrative was one of the two finest pieces of literature he could recall. The other was Anne of Green Gables , which he had said grasped shockingly real-world themes. (Like the narrator, Dad has always been terribly concerned with whether or not Anne should be spelled with an e. Tricky things, names, aren’t they ? he had once said to me). –> Anne of Green Gables is one of my all time favourites and just the fact that it’s mentioned in this book makes my heart warm.
It took me some time to find Agatha Street, which was a darkened artery in a sullen, residential part of town. Narrow, skeletal homes were stacked neatly against each other, pressed together as it to keep warm. –> I love the imagery that is created from reading this piece.
“Please removed that possessed expression from your face”, said Orville. –> Isn’t the name Orville just lovely!
Page Count – 352 pages
Rating – 5 Oakley stars