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Book review: 'The Madwoman Upstairs' is a modern gothic tale

Posted April 13

"THE MADWOMAN UPSTAIRS," by Catherine Lowell, Touchstone, $25.99, 337 pages (f)

In "The Madwoman Upstairs," the debut novel of Catherine Lowell, Samantha Whipple is the last living descendant of the Bronte family and heir to their supposed many artifacts and large inheritance. There aren't many places she can go to escape the intrigue and speculation surrounding her, so she enrolls at Oxford University to study modern literature and to try not to think about her father's untimely death a decade before, or about her mom, who left long before he died and now lives in Paris.

When her father's annotated Bronte novels start showing up at her dorm room, which just happens to be a cold, dated room in a gothic tower, Samantha realizes the key to solving the mystery, and possibly acquiring the Bronte inheritance, is in the words of her famous female ancestors.

With the help of her young, handsome professor, Samantha analyzes the words and lives of the Bronte sisters and attempts to discern how much of the novels is fiction and how much is fact. In the tale that follows, Samantha finds out more about not only her father but also herself and what it means to be a Bronte.

Lowell crafts a modern gothic story in "The Madwoman Upstairs." Whether readers are already fans of the Bronte sisters, have read their novels or neither of the above, Lowell includes an excellent blend of fact and fiction to pique readers' interest in the ill-fated family and keep them turning pages to see how it will all come together.

Samantha is a well-developed character, at first homeschooled by an eccentric father and then alone for much of her time, and her comments and inner dialogue are spot-on, sarcastic and intelligent.

The literary and academic content will not overwhelm Bronte novices, but it will delight those who are familiar with the Bronte texts and those in need of a classic, dark mystery with a little bit of romance.

"The Madwoman Upstairs" contains mild kissing scenes, a few mild swear words and no violence.

Tara Creel is a Logan-native-turned-California-girl and mother of four boys. Her email is taracreel@gmail.com, and she blogs at taracreelbooks.wordpress.com.

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