Sunday 19 March 2017

The Madwoman Upstairs

Finished March 18
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

This novel imagines a young woman, Samantha Whipple, as the last remaining descendant of the Bronte family (from a sibling of the writers' father). Her father died tragically in a fire when she was only fifteen. She is now twenty and studying English Literature at Old College at Oxford University. She is surprised on being shown her lodgings, located in a room up five flights of stairs, at the top of a tower. She has to go all the way down to a washroom, and the room is dank, windowless, and with no source of heat. It had originally (in 1361) been used to quarantine victims of the plague.
Samantha is assigned a young, brilliant professor for her tutorials, Dr. James Timothy Orville III. Their first meeting doesn't go well, and Samantha is unexpectedly upset. She has always received high praise for her work, but Orville doesn't seem to think much of her writing skills.
She is also under pressure to meet a London lawyer about her father's estate, and while she delays that meeting as long as she can, she finds that she must find out what her father left her. When she does so, she finds herself reminded of a long ago gift from her dad, that sent her on a literary scavenger hunt following clues to the true present. Is this what she must do now? And if so, who is to be her guide? And what did her father mean when he told her years ago that she would inherit the Warnings of Experience?
As Samantha meets various other players, from Hans, a Swedish student who seems awfully interested in her; to John Booker, a Bronte scholar who believes her father was in possession of many valuable artifacts of the family, she tries to figure out who she can trust with the many questions she has.
Samantha is still hoping for a connection to her dead father, and trying to forge some sort of relationship with her mother, who left when she was young. She is suspicious of ulterior motives with those that offer friendship due to her family name. She is in a new environment, and feeling very much alone. As she gradually learns more about her father, and about herself, she must also find a way to move forward with her life for herself.
I found the connection to the Brontes interesting, and the way their novels and lives became part of the plot intriguing.

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