The Madwoman Upstairs
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher, Quercus!
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.
This book is a weird one for me, because it was very good and it was fascinating and I was completely engrossed, but at the same time...not much really happens in it! I wasn't really sure what to expect going in, but I was intrigued by what I'd heard about the book. I read Jane Eyre back in school and it was actually one of the few classics I read at school that I actually enjoyed. I also recently finished Wuthering Heights for the 2016 Classics Challenge so I was feeling quite confident going in!
The writing was beautiful, I marked so many passages that I enjoyed, it really is fantastically written! Some of the turns of phrase where very reminiscent of the Bronte's if not the time period. The book itself has such a Bronte feel to it, gothic and dark in tone and atmosphere. There where some nice little hidden Bronte gems in there, like the red room. I mean it had peeling paint but still. I immediately honed in on that like AHA! The thing about the writing was that while it was slow to start, and not much really goes on for the majority of the book...the writing was so compelling that I couldn't stop reading. I was curious about what her father was leading her to, and curious about the Bronte's. The book really allows you to get in to the heads of the Bronte's and get to know them as well as Samantha.
There's clearly been a hell of a lot of research that's gone in to the book. I mean we did Jane Eyre at school but we didn't learn much about the author, and this book has so much information to give you and it's so fascinating that you end up eagerly reading it. I was genuinely so interested in all the information about the Bronte's whether true or not, and I found myself kind of wishing it was all true. The whole Charlotte and Anne thing, the thing with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, part of me really wished it was true because it really, really did make sense. Although I now have no desire to read Agnes Grey at all.
The book was like a giant literary treasure hunt as Samantha sets out to find out what her father left her. Every single time she mentioned that library burning down...I winced. Because imagine having an impressive library like that and then poof. There's books being left mysteriously for her with clues in and there where so many plot threads to the book, that all wove together to make the plot, and I was always intrigued to see what was going to happen next.
The book's really made me look at the Bronte's in an entirely new way, as well as their works. Particularly Wuthering Heights. I have a blog post with my thoughts on WH and it was a tricky one for me, but this book actually helped me understand it a little more, and at one point the narrative perfectly puts in to words exactly how I felt about the book, better than I ever could have!
Samantha was an interesting character, I connected to her because of how awkward she was and I could relate to that. I liked her, she had a fantastic sense of humour, I mean...she's probably just as snarky and sarcastic as me! I just got her and I felt for her, she has a forbidden romance thing going on. Which reminded me a bit of Jane Eyre, or perhaps Orville reminded me of a certain character I'm not sure. For me, I found the romance to be subtle and not at all the main point of the book, I don't think I'd have liked the romance having more of a focus on it. I liked it how it was. I liked the scenes with the two of them even if some of their discussions did make me lose a smidgen of interest. But just a smidgen.
I have to say, one character really got my back up, John. Like....yeah, maybe there are "Bronte Artefacts" hidden from the public by Sam and her dad...what of it? Why shouldn't they be kept within the family? The sisters where people too, and this John guy doesn't have a right to all of their possessions. It really hit home for me, how these three women have become larger than life to the extent that people seemingly forget they were actual human beings, if that makes sense. John wasn't all bad though, I mean I kind of felt sorry for him in the end.
There's a lot of characters in the book, they're all very well written and strong. Sam's mother cracked me up at one point, when she found out Sam had broken in somewhere and was just like "Next time you use the window", I genuinely laughed out loud! You have Rebecca, who wasn't an entirely pleasant character, and I kind of want to say that Anne and Charlotte were characters in a way. Each character was so fascinating to read about.
I'm used to reading books with a lot more action, and when the whole hunt for the Warnings of Experience started I was thinking we'd start to get some action. We didn't, but what surprised me about the book was how engrossed I became in it despite the lack of action, it was so unusual for me. I was genuinely, completely and utterly engrossed in the book, wondering if any of it was really true. You get insights in to the Bronte sisters and their books and it was so brilliantly done, working it all in to the narrative in a way that completely gripped you. I also loved learning about Anne, I don't know much about the Bronte's but I know she's the lesser known of the two, and she's also the only one I haven't read a book by, but I loved what was done with her and her book, and I'm so intrigued to read Tenant Of Wildfell Hall now, I'm definitely going to have to read it soon! I want to learn more about the sisters too, and it was just all so fascinating to think about.
The other thing I loved was how many literary references there where in the book, to other books, like even the epilogue...I squealed a bit, I can't lie! I'm a book worm I couldn't not squeal at each new reference. I was so gutted there was no author's note at the end...but then while the book is wrapped up perfectly and you're not left wondering...the lack of author's note kind of makes me continue to wonder about the whole Charlotte and Anne thing.
The Madwoman Upstairs is an engrossing and fascinating read. Fantastically written and with a very Bronte tone and feel to it. The characters were interesting, and intriguing and well brought to life, and the plot was intriguing and just plain fascinating. You will see the Bronte's in a new way, and even see their works in a new way. You may possibly, like me, want to immediately read one or two of the books mentioned if you haven't already!
The blog tour continues tomorrow with The Brunettes Bookshelf!