Monday, August 22, 2016

The Mad Woman Upstairs - Book Club

Catherine Lowell's The Mad Woman Upstairs was my book club's pick for August. A book club member discovered it when it was recommended to her through her Kindle. Because we had read Jane Eyre several months ago and because we were looking for something light to read for summer, we decided that a fictional book about the last surviving descendant of the Bronte family sounded like a good choice.

Here's a basic synopsis:
Samantha Whipple is the last remaining descendant of the Bronte family on her father's side. Her father has died. Her mother lives in Paris. And Samantha is now a student at Oxford's Old College where she is doing everything she can to avoid talking about the Brontes. But there is speculation that a "vast Bronte estate" exists and that Samantha, much like her late father, is hiding it from the public. Samantha knows she has an inheritance from her father, but she doesn't know what it is! And he's sent her on a scavenger hunt of sorts to find it.
So Samantha is our main character, and then you've got a vengeful old man named Sir John who thinks Samantha really does know about the "vast Bronte estate", and then you've also got Samantha's tutor at school who is all broody and hunky (much like Mr. Rochester?) and wants to help Samantha without crossing inappropriate lines.

What did I think of the book? It took me awhile to get into. But once Samantha started getting clues from her dad, the book took on more of a Da Vinci Code quality, minus people getting killed, and I liked the unraveling of mysteries. It also made me curious just how much of the information Lowell included about the Brontes was real and how much she just made up to create a good story for this novel. Lowell was an English major at Stanford, so I'm guessing she studied the Brontes extensively, hence her ability and interest in writing a novel about them?

What did my book club think of this book? Well, only three of us showed up, and only two of the three read the book. But the two of us that did read the book had a good discussion about it! The other woman liked the book, saying that it was a fast read (she read it in one day!) and that she liked how it echoed Jane Eyre without being a complete re-telling of Jane Eyre. She, too, wished that an afterword had been included with the book giving us a little more backstory as to how the author came to write about this. I think it's safe to say that we would recommend this book to other book clubs.

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