Title: The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Time taken to read: 10 days
Goodreads synopsis: 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.
This is my first ever Advance Reader’s Copy, so I’m super excited to talk about this book. I got it from work (Barnes & Noble), and I’m not sure what the rules are exactly regarding what I’m not allowed to say in a review, but I’m pretty sure I’m just not supposed to quote anything because it could be changed before the book is actually published, which I believe is happening in mid-March in this case. And that’s a shame, because this book had so so so many good quotes. Lowell’s similes are seriously phenomenal. Sometimes I would read one and just have to sit and stare at it for a bit because I’d be thinking, “Wow, that comparison is so obscure but so accurate and rather poetic, and I love it.”
The topic of the book is rather ironic for me because I was an English major in college and I also studied in London, though just for a semester. In my very first semester I was assigned to read Jane Eyre, and honestly, I don’t even think I finished the first chapter. I just really, really hate old books. I don’t understand them at all. I mean, they’re barely in English, first of all. And second of all, if a character doesn’t theoretically know what Instagram is, how am I supposed to relate to them? (That is a joke but also a little bit serious.) When Samantha is assigned all these long papers on literary novels, I was thinking, “Gosh, I’d have to drop out, because I just couldn’t do it.” Thankfully, when I was at BU, I never had to write a paper longer than eight pages that wasn’t about Harry Potter. (That’s 100% serious. I wrote a fifteen page paper on Harry Potter.) But The Madwoman Upstairs kind of made me want to give Jane Eyre another try. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if there was no pressure, you know? Another thing I thought was sort of ironic is the Brontë’s house that she visits, because I actually went there. When she was talking about visiting the “Brontë parsonage,” I had no clue what she meant, but once she mentioned Haworth, I realized I knew exactly what she was talking about, because the English program I was part of when I was in London took a trip there. I don’t remember a thing about their house, but I do remember all the creepy graves outside of it and the sweet little town it rested in. (Yes, I took these photos.)
I don’t remember exactly what Samantha says, but she thinks the area is very dull, which is very strange to me because I could die in that place, it was so beautiful there and so adorably British.
Anyway, my main issue with the book was James Orville III, her professor. First of all, I don’t understand how he’s named James Orville III when we learn late in the book what his father’s name is, which is neither James nor Orville nor II. (I won’t spoil it, though.) But besides that, he just seemed rather unrealistic to me. Like, he’s just strangely obsessed with literature in a way that I just don’t believe is real, and like I said, I was an English major, so that’s saying something. And the way he acts with Samantha just seems ridiculous. All the times they just happen to end up in the same place at the same time and decide to hang out are so implausible. And why would he be in his boxers in his office? Like, he definitely didn’t walk there in boxers, so, what, he took off his pants when he got there? Really? I don’t think so. Samantha seemed pretty weird and awkward, so I definitely don’t buy the ending (I won’t spoil that either), but the book was still really entertaining and well-written otherwise, so I would recommend checking it out once it is published.
Also: I won’t be posting reviews for the next month or so. I’m starting residential treatment for my anorexia, and I won’t be allowed to have my computer or anything, but I will be bringing a nice stack of books, so I’ll be spitting out a handful of reviews right when I return. So just don’t think I’ve abandoned this blog, because I haven’t. I’m just taking a little vacation from life in order to heal. If you’re interested in reading about eating disorders, I’d recommend Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Wintergirls is one of my favorite books of all time, and while everyone’s eating disorder is different, I think Anderson did a really good job of creating a very realistic version of anorexia. That being said, if you’re currently really struggling with anorexia, I think the book could be triggering if you want it to be, so read with caution. If you’re still at the point where you don’t want to recover, it might be best to wait to read it until you’re in a better mindset. If you’re looking for triggers, just know that I was right there with you just a week ago, and I’ve only just begun to accept recovery, which I know will happen for you as well.