Book Review: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Author: Catherine Lowell
First line: The night I arrived at Oxford, I learned that my dorm room was built in 1361 and had originally been used to quarantine victims of the plague.
Review: This is the kind of book that gets the cutesy adjectives thrown at it -- quirky, charming, playful, breezy -- and they're all apt. This is a quirky, charming, playful, and breezy read, a kind of chick-lit-y coming-of-age story that did, I confess, occasionally kill me with the snark, but ultimately had me sighing with satisfaction as I closed it.
Our narrator, Samantha Whipple, is that last living descendant of the Brontes, and is newly arrived at Oxford University where she plans to study modern literature.
Homeschooled by her brilliant but unconventional father, novelist Tristian Whipple, Samantha is an odd duck who has a love/hate relationship with her famous ancestors. Her father's obsessive study of their writings combined with the public's insatiable curiosity about them has Samantha wanting to do anything but study them -- but they immediately intrude into her life. Copies of her father's books -- thought to have been destroyed in the fire that killed him -- appear at her doorstep, and her family's nemesis, the caretaker of the Bronte's Haworth home, nags her for a meeting. Add in a crush for her prickly, brilliant tutor and an insta-hate relationship with an Oxford professor who seems to see her only at her worst, and Samantha has a very full -- but entertaining -- plate.
I will admit upfront that two things made me bonkers while reading this book. One, Samantha is a non-stop font of sarcasm and glib one-liners. They're amazing and hilarious but extremely tiresome in large doses, and at moments, I felt like her tart testiness and wry zingers were actually a bit mature for her -- she made observations that didn't quite feel true for a 19/20 year old homeschooled girl. And two, Lowell unloads mystery after mystery without revealing the answer to any for almost two-thirds of the book, which was exhausting -- I just wanted some relief from the wondering and mystification!
Still, I could not put this book down. The mysteries unfolded deliciously, surprising me, and I found myself sighing a little over the romance. It was the perfect mix of nerdiness, silliness, and drama, and I can't recommend it enough for this summer. The lingering memory of this read makes me smile, and I'm almost contemplating a reread one sunny weekend this summer!
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / University / Coming-of-Age / Father-Daughter Relationships / Bronte Family / Mystery / Romance)
Publisher/Publication Date: Touchstone (3/1/2016)
Source: The publisher