Madam is a debut novel but my goodness the author knows how to grab her readers’ attention! The book starts with three short chapters. First there is a tense and dramatic scene with a raging fire at a renowned girls’ boarding school and people desperate to escape. Next, a letter abruptly terminates a teacher’s employment. Finally, another teacher , Rose, unexpectedly gets appointed to the post. I was hooked!
Madam is a book which had me enthralled. Caldonbrae was a very strange school indeed, a school where all the female staff are called Madam and the male staff Sir. If you ever longed to go to a boarding school like Malory Towers, then this book would be enough to put you off! As Rose soon discovers, the school is a bit like Hotel California, somewhere you can never leave. Far from being the seat of excellence she thought, she soon discovers that there is something very odd about this school. The girls seem less interested in education such as her classics lesson and more interested in becoming skilled in areas which will help them become refined and perfect wives at rather a young age.
The school itself plays an important role in the book and the descriptions of the building on a clifftop looming high above the sea make it sound so creepy and atmospheric. There was a definite feel of Rebecca and Manderley about this book where Rose doesn’t fully understand what’s going on around her. In this case, she’s surrounded by lots of ‘Mrs Danvers’ in the guise of the other Madams and indeed the girls themselves. As I was reading I could sense her growing unease and her feeling of being trapped as she became more aware of just what was happening in this strangest of schools. For Rose, it wasn’t just as simple as leaving, in fact that was almost impossible.
I enjoyed reading about the various women from Greek legends throughout the books. Many of these women come to a sticky end and although sometimes seeming powerless, they were often women with choices. With the influence of the school extending far beyond its walls, for Rose no escape or positive outcome seemed possible, just like many of the women in the Greek legends.
Madam is a creepy and intense read, full of suspense and with a definite nod towards classic Gothic novels. With the level of unease and danger intensifying throughout the book, it’s one I was reluctant to put down.
My thanks to the publishers Quercus for sending me a copy of this book as part of the Word of Mouth Bestsellers Event. The publication of the physical copy has been delayed until May but the ebook and audiobook editions are available from today. You’ll find buying options on the Quercus website here: Madam
From the back of the book
For 150 years, Caldonbrae Hall has loomed high above the Scottish cliffs as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. A boarding school for girls, it promises that its pupils will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’.
Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher and new head of department. Rose is overwhelmed by the institution: its arcane traditions, unrivalled prestige, and terrifyingly cool, vindictive students. Her classroom becomes her haven, where the stories of fearless women from ancient Greek and Roman history ignite the curiosity of the girls she teaches and, unknowingly, the suspicions of the powers that be.
But as Rose uncovers the darkness that beats at the very heart of Caldonbrae, the lines between myth and reality grow ever more blurred. It will be up to Rose – and the fierce young women she has come to love – to find a way to escape the fate the school has in store for them, before it is too late.
Perfect for fans of Margaret Atwood and Madeline Miller, Madam is a darkly feminist tale with an electrifying cast of heroines you won’t soon forget.
About the Author
Phoebe Wynne worked in education for eight years, teaching Classics in the UK and English Language and Literature in Paris. She left the classroom to focus on her writing, and went on to hone her craft in Los Angeles and in London. Madam is her first novel. She is both British and French, and currently spends her time between France and England.