Madam by Phoebe Wynne | Publisher: St. Martin’s Press | Genre: Thriller, YA, Contemporary | Find it on: Goodreads | Publishing: 18 May 2021
Hot Take: A modern Jane Eyre without a Mr. Rochester where Jane embraces her isolation to teach other girls the power of being alone.
I struggled to rate this book because it wasn’t the “thriller” I was expecting. Yes there’s mystery, nefarious secrets, a gothic manor on the moors, and a deadly fire, but the whodunnit isn’t the point of Madam. This isn’t a spiraling suspense or a slow burning thriller with an unreliable narrator. And while there’s at least one crime being committed, the question of guilt runs much deeper.
In fact, the question of guilt is one that runs throughout the narrative and may be the most important question of the book. What does it mean to be guilty and what does it mean to be a victim.
Wynne’s writing style is at times slogging and the way she strings the narrative together is occasionally jarring in a way that doesn’t seem intentional. Rose is not a heroine you find yourself rooting for as you read. She’s frustrating and indecisive and real in a way that hits so close to home it’s painful. But she serves her purpose well, working as an entry point into questions about the many ways we can be guilty, we can be victims, and how we can–even with the best of intentions–lead others astray.
Without giving anything away, there’s a lot in this book I want to discuss. It would be perfect for a book club or a contemporary lit class. It asks questions worthy of criticism and discussion. However, it’s not a Paula Hawkins or Ruth Ware style mystery-thriller.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced page-turner, this is not the book for you. But if you’re looking for something dark and brooding to talk about over a glass of wine, this may just be the perfect pick.
READ WHILE YOU WAIT: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (for Jane Eyre vibes); My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (to explore the rhetoric of victimhood and gender)
Read it? Adding it to your TBR? Disagree? Let’s talk in the comments!
*Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the review copy!*