One of the many things I love about reading is that magic moment when you fall into a story so captivating that you lose track of time and live inside the pages for a while. As I’ve grown busier and busier, those moments seem few and far between. It’s not often that I have an entire afternoon to devote to reading a book, and it’s also not often that I find such captivating fiction that isn’t too simplistic or predictable.
That’s what makes today’s blog post so fun! I recently stumbled upon a book, bought it on a whim, and spent the entire afternoon devouring it. This was a case of judging a book by its cover that worked out very, very well.
The book is called The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell, and it caught my eye mainly because of the title. The title is similar to The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, a work of literary criticism that I’ve never quite been able to finish. The titles of both of these books reference Jane Eyre, one of my long-time favorite books.
Unlike Gilbert and Gubar’s massive literary text, Lowell’s book is readable and funny fiction. It’s a novel set in one of my favorite places, Oxford, and it’s about the fictional “last of the Brontës,” the famous literary family that brought us Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Did you read that last paragraph closely? It’s a book based on the Brontës and set in Oxford. Can it get any better? I don’t think so!
The book follows the story of Samantha Whipple, the last living relative of the Brontë family. Samantha goes to Oxford to study at Old College after her father’s death. According to the literary elite of the world, Samantha’s father has been hiding a massive family inheritance left over from the Brontës, something Samantha knows is a false claim. The story takes a twist towards suspense when mysterious novels (all by the Brontës, of course) start showing up on Samantha’s door as clues in a puzzle left to her by her father.
This book has a little bit of everything–humor, romance, suspense, and lots and lots of literary references. It’s a perfect rainy day book, and it drew me in from the first few pages. A few of the plot points were predictable, but others were totally unexpected and unique. There was some language I could have done without, but on the whole it was a wonderful reading experience. The main characters were well-defined and engaging, and the whole thing reads as a quirky love letter to literature.
What more could you want? This book is the first one I’ve read in a while that really left me with a “book hangover–” that feeling that you can’t get back to normal life because you’re still stuck in the world of the story.
It also made me want to re-read Jane Eyre, so I’ll let you know if that actually happens.