Release Date: 3rd March 2016
Edition: UK hardback, review copy
Think you know Charlotte, Emily and Anne?
Samantha Whipple is the last remaining descendant 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 Brontës’ 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.
I’m just going to come out and say it: The Madwoman Upstairs is my favourite book of 2016 so far. I loved every single word of it.
My love of classics has increased significantly over the years, and after reading Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre last year and then Agnes Grey in January, so has my love for the Brontës. I jumped at the chance to take part in the blog tour for this book and I'm so, so glad I did. I went in not knowing very much, only that it was a literary mystery with lots of Brontë influence, and I came out with a whole lot more than I expected.
Within the first couple of chapters, The Madwoman Upstairs declares itself as a fiercely clever book. Samantha is just beginning an English Literature degree at Oxford and she embarks on a series of tutorials with the harsh and rather mysterious James Timothy Orville III. The discussions they have about literature, authorial intent and literary theory are intense and battering. They made me think. And even though my university experience was nothing like the very strange and extreme Oxford experience, it still made me all nostalgic for my lectures and seminars about some of the same texts that Samantha studied.
The mystery of the secret Brontë legacy, and what her dad could have been hiding, is the driving force of the novel, but it didn’t play out at all how I expected it to. To complete the treasure hunt for her inheritance set by her dad, Samantha had to explore the Brontës’ most famous novels in a way she never had before. I love how she discovered that the novels and the lives of the sisters’ themselves reflected her life and that of her dad’s rather eerily, the things she uncovered about how she approaches literature, the fine line between passion and obsession and the way literary theory can reveal both everything and nothing about a book and it's author. I learned so much from reading this novel (I used so.many.tabs.) and it’s made me eager to finish off the Brontë novels – I’m thinking The Tenant of Wildfell Hall first. I really do love Anne, and I’m not too keen on Charlotte.
Alongside all of Samantha’s investigating, she was also becoming a little enamoured of her tutor, Orville. I actually found him really grating at first, but I eventually fell under his spell as well. There’s just something so appealing about a man who knows his books! Their relationship wasn’t always a relationship and I loved that. It felt genuine and higgledy-piggledy and I was never able to predict the outcome for them. The epilogue sorted everything beautifully though and I loved how Lowell worked in some Brontë quotes – it made me very happy when I finished devouring half of the book at 2am!
The Madwoman Upstairs is a gorgeous exploration of loss, loneliness, love and the inimitable power of literature. I already want to devour it all over again.
Thanks to Quercus for the review copy and make sure you check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour!