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The Madwoman Upstairs - Catherine Lowell

Samantha Whipple, recently enrolled at Oxford University finds herself surrounded and followed by her past. Still struggling to overcome the death of her father she is also on the hunt for her inheritance, hinted at by her eccentric father. It would appear to be connected to her ancestors, as so much of her life is. It just so happens that those ancestors are the Brontës…


Being a huge fan of Jane Eyre, and having just visited the Bronte parsonage I thought it was high time I read this book.


This is a fun take on the Brontës, using them as a narrative device to propel the mystery of Samantha Whipple’s inheritance and her hunt for it. Samantha has travelled over from the United States to study at Oxford and finds herself shut away in a tower room with no windows and an austere portrait looking over her. To top it off, her room is a stop on the tourist trail. Then there is her tutor, James Orville III. He’s taciturn, provocative and Samantha finds herself begin to become attracted to him.


The mystery of the missing inheritance is less about finding an item and more about Samantha finding herself and learning more about her father. She finds her attitudes towards Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë changing as Orville challenges her entrenched views on the sisters.


At times the novel feels like a dissertation, with it’s definite views on various works of literature peppering the narration. However I liked the literary discussions and thought the setting of Oxford worked well. I was a little disappointed with how Samantha reacted to her visit to the parsonage in Haworth, though this may be because I had just visited and had the complete opposite reaction.


This is more a story that examines literature and it’s subjective nature, rather than a love story or a mystery. It made me want to read more of the Bronte s works which can only be a good thing.


Whilst the slightly ambiguous ending left me a little flat, this novel was an enjoyable read and a pleasant way to spend a few hours.