Title: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Published by Touchstone
Published: November 22nd 2016
Format: Trade Paper
This was not an office. It was a small library, two stories high, with thin ladders and impractical balconies and an expensive ceiling featuring a gaggle of naked Greeks. It was the sort of library you’d marry a man for.
In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel—“an enjoyable academic romp that successfully combines romance and intrigue” (Publishers Weekly)—the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary treasure hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using only the clues her father left behind and the Brontës’ own novels.
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her eccentric father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family—a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.
But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from the past begin rematerializing in her life, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha plunges into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own works.
A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, The Madwoman Upstairs is a smart and original novel and a moving exploration of what happens when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.
Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs has been on my radar for a while, and when BookSparks sent me a copy of this book and a lovely Penguin English Classics edition of Jane Eyre to celebrate Charlotte Brontë’s birthday, I was super excited to finally read it. I mean, how could I not? It’s about the last descendant of the Brontë family and the discoveries and revelations the main character has along the way.
The Madwoman Upstairs is literally a literary treat to me. In some ways, it reminded me of a light-hearted, quirky version of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, and I adored reading it. The narrator has such a great voice, and I thought Lowell captured the voice of a young, headstrong, stubborn woman thrown headfirst into a world she has been trying to avoid since her father’s death. But as it happens, it’s entirely difficult to leave the past in the past, and inevitably it will come back to you.
Generally, when one thinks of the Brontë family, one might think of Charlotte or Emily before thinking of Anne, so I liked the twist of Anne being more of the focus of this treasure hunt Samantha Whipple goes on after receiving a strange little bookmark from her father’s papers. The Madwoman Upstairs is very much a fun campus novel with twists of romantic comedy and literary intrigue, and it was an enjoyable read from start to finish!
I received a copy of this book from Book Sparks and the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.
Title: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Published by Riverhead Books
Published: May 2nd 2017
Format: Trade Paper
Some say the women left something of themselves in the water; some say it retains some of their power, for ever since then it has drawn to its shores the unlucky, the desperate, the unhappy, the lost. They come here to swim with their sisters
A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.
Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she'd never return.
With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.
This summer I am participating in Book Sparks‘s Summer Reading Challenge, and the first book of the summer is Paula Hawkins’s Into the Water. I have been eagerly waiting to read this after reading The Girl on the Train last year, and I feel like she met my expectations with her sophomore novel. Into the Water is a slower-paced novel compared to the runaway feeling that I got while reading The Girl on the Train, and I think that the pace and atmosphere of each book fits the title. Into the Water unfolds slowly through multiple perspectives and all of the details float around until the final few chapters when everything comes together.
Into the Water‘s strength lies not in the driving force of the plot but in its undercurrent. The main plot revolves around the death of a single mother in a pool of water in which other women throughout the town’s history have also died. To me, the most interesting aspect of this novel is the history of that pool and the stories of the women who died there. I would have loved for the novel to revolve more around the histories of those women because their stories were nuanced, engaging, and compelling. I wanted to know more about the lives of those women and what led to their downfalls.
The major drawback for me in this novel are the narrators. I felt like there were too many narrators (eleven! I wrote the names down to keep track of them, and I’ve never felt like I’ve had to do that before), and that many narrators lead to a jumpy, sometimes jarring plot. I like stories with multiple perspectives, and I think eleven narrators can work if it’s a longer book or a longer series, but when a book is less than four-hundred pages, I find that eleven narrators eventually blur and lose their distinctions.
Overall, this is a solid read for me, and I breezed through it on a lovely spring day with my cat on my lap on our deck.
An advance reader’s copy was sent to me on behalf of Riverhead Books and Book Sparks for my honest opinion.