Firstly, a huge thank you to Quercus Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Madam in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date: 18/02/2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Gothic | Thriller | Historical Fiction
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.
With it’s striking cover, and the fact I couldn’t scroll through Twitter without seeing people talking about this book a few months ago, I was very intrigued and excited when I finally got around to reading it. This novel started off really strong and I loved the mystery, the end left me a little conflicted but I thoroughly enjoyed this novel regardless.
At the very beginning of the novel, before we are even introduced to Caldonbrae Hall, there is a sense of unease around the place even though you don’t understand why. It was this unease and uncertainty surrounding the school that kept me gripped from the beginning. Even as I began to work out what was going on in the novel, I wanted my suspicions confirmed, I wanted to know the truth and not just my assumed truth of the novel. Wynne does a wonderful job with the pacing of the novel, by splitting the book into three terms you would think this is a relatively short amount of time to spend at a school. However, so much happens within these parts and there are slow moments of the novel but I found that just emphasised how Rose is struggling to come to terms with her place at the school.
Although Rose embodies the reader as being an outsider to Caldonbrae Hall, I enjoyed how the reader is able to piece things together much quicker than Rose. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an element of mystery throughout the novel, as there is quite a lot I didn’t seem coming, but it was a very clever way that Wynne allows the reader to understand Rose as an outsider, but also understand the girl’s frustration that Rose doesn’t know the ins and outs of the school like they do. I especially enjoyed the blend of characters and how they complemented and contrasted each other. The students were all individuals and whilst it may take a little while to warm up to some, you’re genuinely intrigued by them and their lives at the school and outside it. Without giving anything away, I liked how Rose interacted with other teachers and students and would try to voice her opinion against the school later on, although there were times where it did seem a little repetitive. I think my favourites were Daisy, Freddie and Nessa. I loved this little trio and really found myself rooting for them above everyone else!
Whilst I loved the pacing and the mystery of the novel as a whole, I felt as though the ending was a little rushed and it ended quite abruptly. I did think the epilogue was a nice touch though and it had a similar sense of unease as the beginning of the novel did. I also really enjoyed the stories of women from ancient classics woven into the novel and the strong feminist themes that ran throughout.
Overall, this was a fascinating read, one which Wynne expertly combines a gothic atmosphere and an almost dystopian one. Madam is a novel which will take you to another world with an unsettling atmosphere which will linger in your mind for days.