Emotional and intriguing

The Madwoman Upstairs - Catherine Lowell

Loved it! This book is a mainstream novel, and I don’t usually read mainstream, much less like it – I prefer genre – but when I do like such a book, it’s often amazing. In this case, I didn’t expect to like it, even after I started. The action is slow, with lots of contemplations and inner monologues, but I couldn’t abandon the book. I couldn’t scan the pages to fasten the process either. I needed to read every word, pay attention to the nuances, and stay with the heroine through all her calamities, real or imaginary, even though half her problems stemmed from her immaturity. The novel pulled me in, engaged my emotions, and intrigued my brain. Only the best kinds of literature could do that.

The protagonist, a young woman Samantha, is the last descendant of the Bronte sisters. The novel is steeped in literary references to Brontes’ novels and other famous Victorian fiction. I don’t know that period’s literature very well (do you see me blushing in shame?), but after this novel, I might try to improve my familiarity with the Brontes’ canon. This book made me curious.

The plot has a vague resemblance to a literary mystery. Overtly, Samantha is searching for her inheritance, following her late father’s literary clues through Brontes’ novels and places they inhabited. But on the subconscious level, Samantha is really searching for herself.

She is maturing inside this story. She is learning to love and to understand. She is learning to forgive and to accept. She is a complex, sophisticated young woman, and her academic brilliance, social awkwardness, and deep loneliness felt real. I knew such girls. I was one of them myself, and my heart ached for her in all her twisted, often misguided attempts to find her own path in the world.

The other characters felt just as real. This novel doesn’t deal with black and white, as so many genre stories do. In this tale, everyone combines good and bad. The people the author writes about stand up from the pages and walk among us. They have their faults and their frailties, but they also have strengths. I liked them or disliked them, but I always believed in them.

A wonderful novel.