This week’s BotW was a tough decision, with two books in serious contention. But in the end I’ve picked Catherine Lowell’s debut novel The Madwoman Upstairs. The other contender, Brenda Bowen’s Enchanted August, also gets an honourable mention – and if you’re looking for a rich people problems summer holiday book, set on an island in Maine (and inspired by Elizabeth von Arnim’s Enchanted April) this would make a good read for you – I’ve already lent it to my mum. But I digress.
The Madwoman Upstairs tells the story of Samantha Whipple, the last remaining descendant of the Bronte family, starting at university and trying to avoid the attention that her family name has always brought her. She had an unconventional childhood, brought up by her eccentric father, who died in a fire, and who, it’s rumoured, left her a treasure trove of secret Bronte documents. As far as Samantha knows, the mysterious Bronte literary estate doesn’t exist – or if it does no one’s told her about it. Then she receives a copy of a Bronte novel, annotated by her dad, and finds herself caught up in a literary treasure hunt, set by her father. She sets out to solve it, helped – or hindered – by her handsome but cantakerous and combative personal tutor.
I’m not a big Bronte fan. I’ve read Jane Eyre once, tried to read Wuthering Heights several times and never made it, and gave up on the TV adaptation of Tennant of Wildfell Hall. However I seem to be reading increasing numbers of Bronte-themed/based books – and really enjoying them. This isn’t quite up their with The Eyre Affair, which is my all-time favourite, but I liked it even more Jane Steel (a BotW a few months back) – which was promising at the start but faded a little. This keeps the pace going to the very end – which left me having a spoiler-filled moment on Litsy (I added spoiler tags don’t worry) because I had Thoughts I needed to put out there. It’s really fun and quite funny – although I wouldn’t precisely call it a “a light-hearted literary comedy” as some of the tag lines would have it* – I was thinking more darkly comic in places.
I’ve already lent this out to a friend – I suspect my mum may want to read it as well, and I think this would generally be a great book to read as the schools go back, starting as it does with Samantha arriving at university. But equally if you’re off on a late summer break, this would keep you engrossed and smiling on the plane (or on the beach).
I was lucky enough to have an advance copy which was paperback, but sadly it’s only out in hardback at the moment. You can get a copy from Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Waterstones, Foyles – or pre-order the paperback for a nice treat you’d forgotten you’d bought when it arrives in April – on Amazon and Waterstones.
*I see the paperback cover – and the current ebook cover feels much lighter and less gothic than the cover I had, which fits with the light-hearted comedy idea much better than the one which I have.