I rarely know what a book is about when I crack open the cover. Sure. At some point, I knew what the book was about and I either requested it on Netgalley or put it on hold at the library. But, for the most part, I decided a while ago that I was going to read a book so by the time I pick it up, I have no idea what it’s about.
It makes life more interesting. But it can also actually be super confusing to start reading a book you know nothing about. Weird, right? So with Madam by Phoebe Wynn, I really had no idea going into it what it was about. I just took cues from the cover which is a dark house on a cliff. It made me think of Rebecca.
And like Rebecca, Madam is a sinister story that starts out innocently enough until it turns into something else. But you really know it’s coming with such a spooky setting, right?
From the Publisher:
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.
When Rose gets a job offer to teach at an exclusive private school in Scotland, it seems like the perfect opportunity. Her mother’s health is ailing and she has been spending far too much time and money taking care of her. So even though the school is isolated, it seems like at least, she can live her own life. The school includes her own flat where she will live among other teachers.
At first it’s not so bad. She makes friends with another teacher, and there is a cute male teacher who warms up to her early on. She’s thrown a bit when (without her permission), the school moves her mother from 5 hours away to a new home closer to the school, all on the school’s dime. But the staff is one big family. And the school takes care of everyone and everything.
Then things start getting weirder. She’s stalked by a student, whose word the adminstrators seem to take over her own, she has not idea what happened to the teacher whose place she took, and it seems like staff members never ever really quit and leave. So it’s either the best place to work in the universe. Or…
It was a good book. But. It took me a super long time to get into Madam. For me, the last third of the book really picked up, which is why I gave it 3 stars, otherwise it would have fallen somewhere around 2. It’s a fascinating premise and the story is good, I just had such a hard time connecting with Rose and even completely knowing what was going on.
Special thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced e-galley in exchange for my honest review. Madam is out May 18. Pre-order your copy: