The curtains were blood-red and drawn. This was not an office. It was a small library, two storeys high, with thin ladders and impractical balconies and an expansive ceiling featuring a gaggle of naked Greeks. It was the sort of library you’d marry a man for.
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she’s rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë’s literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts; a hidden fortune that’s never been shown outside of the family.
But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn’t exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible; namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.
But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world’s greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë’s own writing.
As a person who seldom re-reads novels I am always amazed when I do read a book which upon finishing immediately wonder when I will read it again. The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell was absolutely delightful! A few days ago I found myself picking up books, reading a few chapters and then picking up another one all the while knowing that all I truly wanted was a gothic story. I was thinking about re-reading Jane Eyre as I usually do when this feeling comes over me when I found this book. One that was not only gothic but was about the descendant of the Bronte sisters!
The story is about Samantha Whipple, a twenty year old descendant of the Brontë girls, whose father has passed away and left little clues to her inheritance for her to find, something equivalent to a literature scavenger hunt. I also absolutely love that this story is set at Oxford University, what a perfect setting!
The tone of this novel was perfect. Gothic and dark but funny and sarcastic at the same time. I am a huge fan of books that are essentially about books (i.e.: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Thirteeth Tale by Dianne Setterfield, etc) and this one was right up my alley. From the start Sam finds herself at the Universities oldest room on campus that is actually in a tower with no windows! Just imagine, my skin is crawling with the excitement of it, bringing back subtle comparisons to Jane Eyre.
The nods to the all the Brontë novels are seamlessly integrated into the story. Catherine Lowell articulates each of their writing without being too repetitive. I especially enjoyed her in depth look at the youngest sister, Anne Bronte, who was over-shadowed by her eldest sister. The one thing that was strange was you never really know who Samantha’s favourite author is or if she really liked any authors at all. Almost as if her passion for books was not fuelled through her love of reading but her love for her father and trying to decipher who he truly was. After previously reading two duds this book was like a fresh breath of air! I recommend it for all Bronte, gothic novel loving fans.