Book Review: Madam by Phoebe Wynne

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 352 pages

Published: May 18, 2021

Publisher: Scribner

Genre: Mystery & Thriller, Gothic, Feminism

Synopsis:

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.


Creepy, sinister schools must be the trend this year since this is the third one I read this year. Come with me as the author Phoebe Wynne takes readers to the remote Scottish Cliffs, where an innocent teacher uncovers dark circumstances at an exclusive private school.

Rose Christie has just received a position at Caldonbrae Hall, a prestigious boarding school for girls, as the new head of the Classics department. Rose is completely overwhelmed by the reputation of the school. But as her time goes on at Caldonbrae Hall, Rose discovers the true darkness that lies beneath this illustrious school and is forced to confront her role in promoting it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. Yes, it is a slow-paced novel, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. With us living in a fast-paced world, sometimes, it is good to slow down once in a while, especially with a book. This one reminded me of reading a classic novel, and since it is one of my favorite genres, this was just a joy to read. Wynne has done such a good job creating an engrossing tale that keeps readers hooked from beginning to end. Not only was the haunting backdrop enticing and the gothic elements compelling, the feminist aspects and lessons perfectly entwined with the story. It wasn’t too preachy but managed to address a powerful sentiment still. 

The fact that it took place in the 90s, during the Thatcher years, but still presented that Gothic presence and atmosphere threw me a curveball but in a good way! It was such an innovative way of writing a story. The novel is historical fiction (yes, it is considered historical even in the 90s) and contemporary fiction. Although the periods are different, they will have the same ideas and problems that can be relatable at any time. I also loved the Greek/Latin history mixed into the novel. Those introductions may have turned some readers off. Still, I found it interesting to learn something new and necessary, especially with the story being told. If readers choose to not lose their patience with it, they will also find it delightful and intriguing. How women are marred and belittled for being women in history is still done today. That is interesting to reflect upon. 

I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a novel you should try. Perfect for readers who enjoy Gothic literature and authors such as Daphe Du Maurier and Donna Tratt, Madam is a dark, gothic feminist novel that is excellently written with innovation and an intriguing read for contemporary audiences. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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