Friday, April 21, 2017

THE MADWOMAN UPSTAIRS BY CATHERINE LOWELL - BOOK REVIEW

Hello everyone!

I am back with another book review, The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. Thanks so much to Book Spark for sending me a copy of this book for an honest review, as always, all opinions are my own.


Going into this book, I wasn't really too sure what to expect - however, I was fairly pleasantly surprised with what I got.

This story follows Samantha who has just enrolled at Oxford and is quickly becoming a campus celebrity since she is the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family. Her father was an eccentric man who recently passed away but devoted his life to studying the sisters and their works. Sam soon learns that her father has set up a sort of scavenger hunt to find her inheritance, using clues in the books and she tries to unravel that mystery while also going to school. With the help of her professor, Orville, she begins to understand the Brontë sisters more than she ever did while battling those in the academic community who are convinced that her family has been hiding possessions that would help readers better understand the novels.

There are a lot more layers to this story than I initially thought. Sam's learning is all one-on-one with her teacher and he expects a lot from her. I found their discussions fascinating, and while I don't have a great knowledge of classic authors over the years, I was able to appreciate the analysis Orville offered. The way the story is written, it's almost as though the reader is a part of these sessions along with Sam, learning about the various authors and their works. I can see how this may bore some people, but I found it quite interesting.

A major issue in this story centres around how to read a text, or specifically in this book, how to read the Brontë canon. There are three main 'camps' discussed in the book, the authorial intent reading, where you look at what the author wanted the reader to take away from the book, typically using the text and clues within it, the historical/personal reading, where you take into account the author's personal life and how that shaped the story, and the literal reading, where you look at what the author has written and take it in the literal sense. Regardless of a reader's personal opinion, I found these concepts fascinating. Each has its own pros and cons, and there are characters who support and disagree with each.

I really liked how the book went into the theoretical aspect of literature, how to figure it out, that sort of thing. I've never read a book like it before and I found the concept fascinating.

In between the literary analysis, we also saw Sam's fairly simple day-to-day life. I found her life to be interesting at points, but I found myself more interested in the moments where she was learning with Orville.

This book is unlike any I have read before. There is a plot, but the story is very loosely reliant on the plot. Yes, Sam is trying to find her inheritance and solve the puzzle her father left, but that is often left on the back burner, at least for most of the book. If you are going into this book expecting an action packed scavenger hunt, you won't find it. This book is not that, but still good in other ways.

I haven't read anything by the Brontë sisters, so I cannot comment too much on the accuracy of the critiques or the ideas Lowell puts forth about their novels, but I am inspired to pick up some of them for myself.

Overall, a great book that looks at literary theory and criticism.