The Madwoman Upstairs is a contemporary adventure/mystery about a young woman who is beginning her studies in literature in Oxford. As the last descendant of Patrick Brontë, Samantha Whipple is hounded by the media about her father’s mysterious death (by fire) and the myth of the Brontë inheritance. When the Brontë books from her father’s library begin mysteriously showing up at her door (which she believed were destroyed in the fire that consumed her father), Samantha tries to uncover the truth behind who is leaving them for her, and what her father was trying to teach her between the lines.
I picked this up because one of my favorite novels of all time is Jane Eyre and although the only other Brontë I’ve read so far is Wuthering Heights by Miss Emily, I’ve always felt a little affectionate for their family (Anne, I’m coming for you!). I learned a lot about their family from this novel, but there are also some very definite spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the big four – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenent of Wildfell Hall. Many scenes in the novel are Samantha in one-on-one study sessions with her literature professor discussing the classics, and I was feeling really stupid even a quarter of the way through when this 20 year old was discussing work from…well, pretty much everyone. I read a lot of classics and I’m nowhere near as well read this character is. I would almost say it is unbelievable, but her father was a writer and lover of literature and she did descend from possibly the most famous family of authors who ever lived, so maybe it wasn’t so out of the realm of possibility for her.
After first finishing the novel I was a little bit disappointed that the ending didn’t turn out as shocking/twisty as I was expecting (even hoping for), but the more time that passes now after having finished it, I appreciate it more and more. The suspense is built up quite a bit throughout the novel to the point I was expecting a ‘Madwoman Upstairs’ type twist as found in Jane Eyre, but there is nothing like that. In the end, this is a book about acceptance and family, a coming of age story, and I quite enjoyed it :-)