Book Review: Madam by Phoebe Wynne

About the Book:

For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. A boarding school for girls, it promises that the young women lucky enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs—not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”

It also doesn’t take long for Rose to suspect that there’s more to the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor—a woman whose ghost lingers everywhere—than anyone is willing to let on. In her search for this mysterious former teacher, Rose instead uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, forcing her to confront the true extent of the school’s nefarious purpose, and her own role in perpetuating it.

A darkly feminist tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines, Madam will keep readers engrossed until the breathtaking conclusion.

My Thoughts:

I must confess that this book was a horrible start for me on several accounts. Not only was it dragging, for a lack of better word, I couldn’t make sense of what was going on with the people at this school. It was as if Rose stepped into the twilight zone. The movements and the speech of the characters were not natural. The dialogue was clunky and the conversations between the characters were confusing at times. Nothing was making sense but something was telling me to push on.

I kept reading and my frustrations grew. To my dismay, I couldn’t relate to any of the characters nor did I sympathize with them. I was about to give up on the story and almost half way through, there was a change…

The story takes a turn to an interesting development and I began to see the reasoning of the oddness of the story in the first half of the book. As I read on, I must say that I still didn’t care for any of the characters or their situation. But I was pleased the dialogue had improve somewhat and I didn’t feel so disoriented!

If there ever was a character you wanted to grab and shake and yell, “What is wrong with you? Wake up and snap-out of it!” It would be Rose. When she first arrived at the school, everything started off wrong for her and her lack of gumption made things worse for her. I would not portray her as a heroine. While she saw the horrible things going on around her, and at times spoke up, she just wasn’t strong enough to handle anything! I believe you will find interesting who the true, “Heroines” are.

I would also like to point out that in the second half of the book, there are two disturbing scenes that might be too sensitive for some readers. While I understand the context was important to drive the plot, I could have done without it. It made me feel extremely uneasy.

I give this story three stars solely on the reason that the school’s purpose makes for a relevant story but creepy read and the setting has all the right elements of a Gothic tale.   

Stephanie Hopkins

Side note: The book description gives away too much information about the story.

I obtained a galley copy from the Publishers through NetGalley.

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