Setting: London, England, present day
The Madwoman Upstairs literally could be any one of several characters in the various Bronte novels or any of the women authors of those novels. It could also be the first-person narrator and protagonist in this novel, her former tutor who was her father’s mistress, or even Catherine Lowell, the author of this book. Its story explores almost all of these options while posing several esoteric theories about the Bronte sisters and the effects that their life experiences may have had upon their creative works and vice versa. No stone is left unturned as the narrator, Samantha, the last surviving relative of the Brontes, attempts to follow cryptic literary treasure-hunt clues left as her inheritance by her deceased Bronte-obsessed father. Meanwhile, she is also becoming obsessed with her Oxford college professor.
Catherine Lowell has a gift for penning unexpected and arresting similes and metaphors that are this novel’s greatest strength, beyond its value as a potential treatise on the Brontes and their novels. The treatise, while perhaps intellectually challenging to those with a literary bent, becomes rather tedious for the reader who may be waiting, almost interminably, for something to happen. The writing style, therefore, helps keep the reader awake, though the author’s tone is extremely harsh and incessantly negative.
Samantha is angry and mad about every single thing, event, place, and person in her life. This begs the question of why anyone, and especially the reader, would sympathize or fall in love with her. Her professor is equally unlovable, as he is distant, harsh, and unsympathetic to Samantha through most of the book. Every character in this novel is particularly nasty, and almost all of them have no redeeming qualities. Their motives are very poorly developed, making the plot thin and unbelievable.
Those seeking a satisfying mystery and/or romance are strongly encouraged to look elsewhere. The Madwoman Upstairs is first and foremost a philosophical treatise about the Brontes, their novels, and truth vs. fiction. The supposed mystery and physical/intellectual attraction (one cannot characterize the relationship as romantic love) have merely been added in an unsuccessful attempt to turn this treatise into a novel.
–Kristi Lyn Glass, Gothic Journal
ISBN: 9781501124211, $25.99 (hardcover), Touchstone, Literary Fiction, March 2016
To purchase this book, click here: The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel