Lowell, Catherine. 2016. The Madwoman Upstairs. New York: Touchstone Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1501124211. $25.99 USD
For an English major and Librarian, Catherine Lowell’s A Madwoman Upstairs is just about perfect. A mysterious inheritance, an Oxford, England academic setting, a somewhat revisionist history of the Bronte family, and a main character, Samantha Whipple, who is the last remaining descendent of that infamous family, all combined in a tale of literature, love, loss and lunacy. Who could resist?
Samantha, twenty years old, has enrolled as a literature major at Oxford, hoping to move forward from the unresolved grief of losing her father, who homeschooled her, rather unconventionally, until the age of 15. Her mother left the family when she was young, and her father, infamous for being among the last of the Bronte descendants, raised her on the literature of her historic literary relatives, when he was sober.
This novel is a mystery, as Samantha tries to figure out the location of the inheritance her father cryptically told her he left her; it’s a coming-of-age story, as Samantha learns to be her own person – separate from whom her father wanted her to be; and it’s a story of literature, as the author uses the texts written by Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte to create a narrative on how we understand and misunderstand authors and their intent. Samantha is an intelligent, lonely and driven character, with a snarky voice that instills some great dialogue, especially between her and her tutor, a blatantly obvious Rochester archetype. Ms. Lowell has hit the ball out of the park in her debut novel. Highly recommended!