“…she’d taken the woman’s job, her role, her flat. Her curse.”
Rose Christie – is a talented Classics teacher in her mid twenties. She has a terminally ill mother and she has the responsibility of paying the fees for her mother’s expensive care home. Her father, a revered educator himself, is dead. Her mother was a feminist and a keen advocate of women’s rights. Rose grew up with feminist values. She is offered a position at a prestigious boarding school in Scotland. She feels very fortunate, but wonders just why her predecessor, Jane Farrier, left. She is appalled when she learns just what goes on in Caldonbrae.
“One way or another someone was going to get eaten alive here, Rose realized.
She’d be damned if it was her.”
Caldonbrae – a prestigious boarding school in Scotland founded in 1840. Archaic in looks and in mission statement, the school aims to produce young women who will fit in well to the elite society of the aristocracy, professionals, and other people of influence and privilege. Caldonbrae is inflexible in its slanted views generated over decades and holds an unpalatable sense of tradition. It’s headmaster decrees that popular music and television are vulgar and the enemy of civilization. It has severe and demoralizing punishments for those students who do not endeavor to conform to its mandates. It is discriminating, elitist, and exclusive. More a finishing school than place of academia.
The cover was what first drew me to “Madam“, then when I learned it was set in a boarding school in Scotland… well I was hooked.
The dynamic of Caldonbrae was creepy. Girls were urged to achieve ‘value’ over their academic endeavors. Caldonbrae was a bad place. Not because of some paranormal vibe, but because of the influence of over a hundred years of corruption generated by men of power and influence. The students and staff were brainwashed into thinking the way they did, each with his or her own motivations.
The fact that the story was set in the 1992-1993 academic year was moot, except to the new teacher, Rose Christie… Madam. The people who lived there knew or cared nothing for recent advances in women’s rights, diversity, social media, or current affairs. Their focus was ‘value’, as in how valuable the students could potentially become to prospective suitors.
The setting was spectacular and one could almost feel the damp and smell the chalk dust.
I know very little of mythology, and the novel gave me a brief glimpse into the rich stories it holds. That being said, the passages written in Latin (which I cannot read) seemed like filler and unnecessary to the narrative.
This is a debut novel and like many debuts I felt it was a tad long. It seemed to be a curious amalgam of Jane Eyre and the Stepford Wives with an overriding feminist message. The plot was slow moving, but there was a sense of menace which made me uncomfortable. I was less than satisfied with the ending, but upon reflection could think of no other way to end it.
Feminist fiction with a gothic vibe, “Madam” was a memorable read, but not wholly satisfying.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from St. Martin’s Press (an imprint of Macmillan Publishers) via NetGalley.
Phoebe Wynne worked in education for eight years, teaching Classics in the UK and English Language and Literature in Paris. She is both British and French, and currently spends her time between France and England. Madam is her first novel.
Follow Phoebe Wynne on Twitter @phoebewynne