The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Posted November 15, 2019 by Amber in Reviews / 3 Comments

The Madwoman Upstairs

The Madwoman Upstairs

by Catherine Lowell

Publisher: Touchstone on March 1, 2016
Genre: Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance
Target Age Group: Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.


I totally unexpectedly really, really enjoyed The Madwoman Upstairs.

There’s a couple things immediately that should have turned me off this novel.  First of all, the romance.  I am never interested in a student/teacher sort of tryst.  Not my cup of tea. Secondly, there’s all the focus on the Bronte sisters.  I don’t talk about it a lot, but I actually despised reading Jane Eyre… to the point where I haven’t touched it or anything like it since.  Disliking Jane Eyre led me to skipping Wuthering Heights, and also all the Austen novels.

So how in the world did The Madwoman Upstairs end up on my TBR?  And me ending up liking it?  Mysteries abound.

This book is about Samantha Whipple – last living descendant of the Brontes – and her search for whatever legacy her father may have left her.  She’s a first year student at Oxford, studying English and Literature… which of course she is rubbish at.  Samantha has that sort of stereotypical American snark.  She makes a lot of bad jokes that nobody gets and definitely nobody finds funny, so, immediately, I related to her.  I didn’t actually find her a particularly likable protagonist, but I did find her to be an interesting one.  Sam’s one of those people who sees the irrationality in things, but often does them anyway, constantly scolding her bad choices… I don’t see a lot of characters like that, but I really enjoy reading about them.  I always enjoy reading protagonists with an inner monologue, the kinds that are in their head a lot.

One of the things that pulled me into this book was the promise of a scavenger hunt – I love those sorts of historical treasure hunts.  Yes, I know National Treasure is a bit awful, but I am so in for that kind of story.  This was what The Madwoman Upstairs promised, and it ultimately delivered.  That said… it delivered very slowly, and sometimes got distracted, and the ultimate ending was a bit underwhelming. It became quickly apparent to me that Lowell wanted this book to be about the love story and Samantha’s journey, not the mystery, so that let me down.

What saved this book, for me, was the literary analysis.  I loved Samantha’s tutorials.  I loved listening to the different perspectives to the Bronte novels… to the point where I actually put a couple on my TBR.  I know, dear readers!  Is this the same person who vowed eternal loathing towards Jane Eyre at the beginning of this review?  Samantha’s literal interpretations of these classic novels are fascinating.

At the end of the day, I rolled my eyes at the “romance” and devoured the historical content.  I couldn’t put this book down because I knew, I knew, if I could just get through the drivel about Orville’s handsome cheekbones or whatever, I would be rewarded with a mystery unveiled.  The Madwoman Upstairs wasn’t a perfect book by any means, but it was interesting enough that I’d read it again, and that I’d watch out for anything else Catherine Lowell publishes.

Also, it got Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall on my TBR, and that alone is a small miracle.

And also, because I feel I must scream it somewhere, I totally believe her ending is unreliable.


Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★★
Writing: ★★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★★
Writing: ★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★


Do you enjoy any Bronte novels?  If so – which is your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

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3 responses to “The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

  1. Jane Eyre is such a tremendously amazing novel that still remains relevant today. My high school students, primarily the guys, are totally involved in the story. No other Bronte novel comes even close to Charlotte’s. Hope you read JE one day.

    • Amber

      I’m glad you enjoy Jane Eyre so much! I, too, read it in high school and unfortunately, it didn’t resonate with me as a reader. But I’m so glad to hear that both you and your students have enjoyed it tremendously. That is certainly the popular opinion – it is a story that readers have enjoyed for generations, and I am sure they will continue to do so. 🙂

  2. Lia

    Yes I agree with your thoughts on this book
    I just finished reading it and can’t quite wrap my head around it.
    I like some romance in my novels so I hope the ending is true but also think it is very unreliable!