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Madam

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A darkly feminist, modern gothic tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines 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 A darkly feminist, modern gothic tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines 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.


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A darkly feminist, modern gothic tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines 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 A darkly feminist, modern gothic tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines 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.

30 review for Madam

  1. 4 out of 5

    MarilynW

    Madam by Phoebe Wynne Greek mythology is one of the many overriding themes of this story. The part where women are so brutalized and villainized that they are considered heroic for scorching their world and others with their own reign of revenge, brutality, violence, and death, is the part that Rose, a new Classics teacher at the celebrated Caldonbrae Hall, is most thrilled to teach to her female students. Rose seems to esteem and worship the women of mythology who murder others, including their Madam by Phoebe Wynne Greek mythology is one of the many overriding themes of this story. The part where women are so brutalized and villainized that they are considered heroic for scorching their world and others with their own reign of revenge, brutality, violence, and death, is the part that Rose, a new Classics teacher at the celebrated Caldonbrae Hall, is most thrilled to teach to her female students. Rose seems to esteem and worship the women of mythology who murder others, including their own children. These lessons are taught by her in the name of feminism and glorifying empowered women, although this type of thinking is very at odds with the aims of the school.  I am not a fan of abrasive Rose. I consider her to be naïve, lacking in common sense, and so unable to read a room that she'll yell and shriek at a room full of people who have threatened her and her loved ones with the most grievous harm. She is at times overly passive and at other times, overly hysterical. She has reasons to be hysterical but she seems to have no survival instinct to show her when she needs to hold her tongue and lash out at a more safe and appropriate time. She does this often, with no chance of making progress towards getting herself out of her dangerous situation. I was rolling my eyes at her right along with her disrespectful students. There are very few characters in this story who are likable and the story is so dark and some of the scenes so disgusting that it was hard to keep reading/listening to the story.  Caldonbrae Hall is more than a girl's school. It's a wicked, all powerful, corrupt institution that pushes archaic, cruel existences onto the girls in it's grasp. There is more than a hint of Jane Eyre in this story but it's so heavy handed, and Rose is so dull minded in her actions and reactions to the situation, that the comparison fades. The story contains brainwashing, child abuse, gaslighting, grooming, pedophilia, sexual harassment, and so much more. It was all too much for me. Expected publication: May 18, 2021 Thank you to St. Martin's Press, Macmillan Audio, and NetGalley for this ARC. 

  2. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    Over and out.. I am doing something very unusual for me. I am putting this book down. I never dnf a book - you have a higher probability of seeing a unicorn in the wild than seeing me put down a book - until today. I have been applauding other reviewers for deciding not to finish, when a book does not work for then and continued to force myself to read a book I was not enjoying....until today I wanted really badly to like this book. I was intrigued by the synopsis and high hopes for the book. Unfor Over and out.. I am doing something very unusual for me. I am putting this book down. I never dnf a book - you have a higher probability of seeing a unicorn in the wild than seeing me put down a book - until today. I have been applauding other reviewers for deciding not to finish, when a book does not work for then and continued to force myself to read a book I was not enjoying....until today I wanted really badly to like this book. I was intrigued by the synopsis and high hopes for the book. Unfortunately it was not the book for me. I found I was only mildly interested in the beginning but read until the 30% mark, but it never got better for me. I made the decision to put the book down. Many are enjoying this book and so I encourage all to give this book a chance as it might be for them. Sadly, this was not a good fit for me. Best of luck to the Author.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael David

    Caldonbrae Hall is an all-girls boarding school in Scotland. It has been a prominent school for over 150 years. 26-year old Rose Christie is the newest teacher they’ve had in years, and also the youngest. She is hired on as a Classics teacher with a Latin focus. As excited as she is for this new journey, she quickly realizes that not all is as great as it seems. The students she teaches treat with her with disrespect, the Headmaster barely gives her the time of day, and the rest of the staff are Caldonbrae Hall is an all-girls boarding school in Scotland. It has been a prominent school for over 150 years. 26-year old Rose Christie is the newest teacher they’ve had in years, and also the youngest. She is hired on as a Classics teacher with a Latin focus. As excited as she is for this new journey, she quickly realizes that not all is as great as it seems. The students she teaches treat with her with disrespect, the Headmaster barely gives her the time of day, and the rest of the staff aren’t very supportive. Beyond that, there is uncomfortable tension in the air as Rose realizes that students are to follow the rules, rituals, and beliefs of Caldonbrae Hall to a tee...and so is the rest of the staff. There will be serious consequences otherwise. The beliefs are utterly ridiculous, not to mention aged, in this bizarre tale that moves at a snail’s pace. It was infuriating to see how much Rose put up with, and what kinds of things she saw...while still staying at the boarding school. She’s a good person with little backbone for the majority of the book, but the behavior was mind-boggling. Additionally, the book takes place in 1992, but you’d almost never know it. It seems more fitting in a previous CENTURY, given the way everyone talks and the ideas and beliefs the school has for the students. It’s jaunting to hear one character mention movies such as Batman Returns and The Silence of The Lambs, because other than that, it feels like the 1900’s. Although slow from beginning to end, I was semi-interested during the first 1/3 of the book...wondering where it would go or if anything exciting would happen. Things happen alright, but they’re not exciting, entertaining, or delightful to read about. The suspense and intrigue were seriously lacking. There is also an overabundance of Greek Mythology discussed in the book, and I didn’t see how that tied into the story...although admittedly, I did skim some of those sections. While this one sounded intriguing and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by some readers, I am not one of them. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This book will be published on: 5/18/21. Review also posted at: https://bonkersforthebooks.wordpress.com

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jayme

    For 150 years Caldonbrae Hall (called Hope by the staff) has been an all girls boarding school, preparing young ladies to emerge “resilient and ready to serve society”. Or at least-ready to serve a certain component of society. All the male teachers are called Sir, and all of the female teachers will be addressed as “Madam”. You will “buy into” their traditions or you will pay the price. That refers to both the students and the staff. So, when a new Head of Department is needed for “Classics” the For 150 years Caldonbrae Hall (called Hope by the staff) has been an all girls boarding school, preparing young ladies to emerge “resilient and ready to serve society”. Or at least-ready to serve a certain component of society. All the male teachers are called Sir, and all of the female teachers will be addressed as “Madam”. You will “buy into” their traditions or you will pay the price. That refers to both the students and the staff. So, when a new Head of Department is needed for “Classics” the headmaster chooses a young teacher named Rose-a young lady he feels can be indoctrinated into their VERY traditional belief system. The year is 1993. But you would think this is taking place in the 1800’s. This book will probably be polarizing. Love it or Hate It. I fall in the second half unfortunately. While the concept is intriguing, the execution falls flat. We spend A LOT of time in the classroom learning A LOT of Mythology from Rose, and are privy to her student’s juvenile dialogue and impolite behavior as things spiral out of control for both teacher and students. (Yawn) The school manages to be similar to a CULT-without the charismatic leader or religious beliefs. I don’t particularly enjoy stories about CULTS or Mythology so I was as doomed as the Greek Goddesses told about within these pages. But, if those subjects entice you, perhaps this book will too! Not one that I will be recommending, although I am sure it will find its audience. 2.5 ⭐️ Thank You to the Publisher for my gifted copy. It was my pleasure to provide a candid review! Available May, 18, 2021.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ceecee

    2.5 In 1992 Rose Christie is employed at Calonbrae Hall, a boarding school in Scotland for girls of wealthy and influential families. She is to be the new Head of Classics, a step up the career ladder and a good promotion as she’s only in her mid twenties. She soon learns the school is not the place she thought or hoped it might be as they try to control her in various ways as they churn out girls more suited to the social ideas of the nineteenth century than the late twentieth. I had high hopes 2.5 In 1992 Rose Christie is employed at Calonbrae Hall, a boarding school in Scotland for girls of wealthy and influential families. She is to be the new Head of Classics, a step up the career ladder and a good promotion as she’s only in her mid twenties. She soon learns the school is not the place she thought or hoped it might be as they try to control her in various ways as they churn out girls more suited to the social ideas of the nineteenth century than the late twentieth. I had high hopes of this book as the premise is promising but it soon begins to feel totally off kilter and not in a good way. It’s a boiling cauldron of weird, of ideas that are outmoded, of characters that are awful with little development that just feel like cardboard cutouts the girls are being trained to be. Every feminist bone in my body screams no at this book and there are a couple of instances that make me recoil in revulsion and horror though none of it has any semblance of authenticity. The book is set in the 1990’s not the 1890’s and it makes the whole thing too hard to accept. The dialogue is stilted, clunky, false and feels fake. I feel no suspense, little menace or threat as the blurb suggests and the only Gothic is the building. Th pace is slow, the plot is unbelievable, I want to scream at Rose and tell her to leave, right now and not look back. She does but way too late. Stepford Daughters for wives? Nooooo. I suppose the fact the girls call female teachers Madam should have warned me as I once worked briefly in a school where that was the form of address. Trust me, hormonal teens can get an awful lot of meaning into the word! Shudder. I think it’s clear I did not enjoy this one at all although others may like it better than I do. With thanks to NetGalley and apologies to Quercus and the author that I could not relate to the book. I received this as an arc in return for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    megs_bookrack

    When 26-year old, Rose Christie, gets hired to teach Classics at the illustrious, Caldonbrae Hall, she's understandably nervous about the placement. Caldonbrae, a traditional boarding school for girls, is a far cry from the public schools Rose has taught in previously. Indeed, from the start, she's out of her element. Her trepidation doesn't improve as classes begin. The young ladies treat her with contempt and an overall lack of respect. She is astounded that such well-groomed girls would think it When 26-year old, Rose Christie, gets hired to teach Classics at the illustrious, Caldonbrae Hall, she's understandably nervous about the placement. Caldonbrae, a traditional boarding school for girls, is a far cry from the public schools Rose has taught in previously. Indeed, from the start, she's out of her element. Her trepidation doesn't improve as classes begin. The young ladies treat her with contempt and an overall lack of respect. She is astounded that such well-groomed girls would think it's okay to treat one of their teachers in such a way. But it isn't even just the girls. Other teachers and staff barely give her the time of day. She's like an annoying gnat they all seem to want to swat away. The longer Rose is there, the more confounding the whole experience seems to be. As Rose slowly, and I do mean slowly, begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together, the shocking truth of Calonbrae Hall is revealed. Y'all, the premise of this book had such promise. I wanted to love it and fully expected that I would. Unfortunately, it fell so flat. The atmosphere was good. It did feel gothic, like the school was trapped in time. Set on the cliffs of Scotland, it was cold and remote. While Rose was there, it felt like she was very far removed from the rest of the world; from anyone who could help her. I was intensely interested in the beginning, for probably the first 20%, and I felt the last 15% was engaging as well. However everything in between was like watching paint dry. There were so many details; so many. I just kept waiting and waiting for something to happen and it was like, the payoff never came. I liked the ideas behind where the author was going, but the execution was a miss for me. I feel like it could have been edited down. Perhaps if it had been more concise, it could have been more impactful. In other words, in this case, it's not the content, but how that content was presented that was the issue for me. Additionally, I do think it is important to note that I listened to the audiobook. I think the narrator did a good job. Frankly, if I had read a hard copy, I may have been even more displeased with it. With this being said, just because it didn't necessarily work for me, doesn't mean it won't work for you. If the synopsis sounds interesting to you, absolutely give it a shot! Thank you so much to the publisher, Macmillan Audio, for providing me with the opportunity to listen to this audiobook. I do appreciate it very much!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    As a trainee history teacher who also wants to teach Latin and Classics, this book was irresistible. A prestigious boarding school, a new Classics teacher, some kind of dark past with the potential for murder most foul. It was ticking all the right boxes. BUT... I could see where this was going long before the main character- and I doubt I'm the only one. Rose, our heroine, is a terrible teacher and an awful narrator, ineffective at every damn thing she tries to do. The plot is patchy and full o As a trainee history teacher who also wants to teach Latin and Classics, this book was irresistible. A prestigious boarding school, a new Classics teacher, some kind of dark past with the potential for murder most foul. It was ticking all the right boxes. BUT... I could see where this was going long before the main character- and I doubt I'm the only one. Rose, our heroine, is a terrible teacher and an awful narrator, ineffective at every damn thing she tries to do. The plot is patchy and full of Rose's weird choices, which are only remotely believable because this is 1992 and there aren't any mobile phones. A few texts could saved the whole thing. On top of that, the inclusion of mythical women, which I was really excited about, served only to work as a rather tenuous motivator for action in the last past of the book. An unforgivable let down, to say the very least. Most of all, if you've got this twisted system that works, why bring in someone new who is probably going to fuck it all up? Of all the people to choose, a young woman like this is not the one. A chance missed with this one. ARC via Netgalley

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Lawson

    This genre is totally my jam but I had a hard time not wanting to throttle the characters sometimes. 3.5 stars

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ellie (faerieontheshelf)

    Caldonbrae was less of a school, and more of an elite institution containing its own churning practices, a forever fortess turning within itself. Madam is such a beautifully atmospheric book, and it's one of my favourite things about it. The oppressive gloom of Caldonbrae Hall perching high on the cliffs above the grey sea, the bleak Scottish coastline flanking the school, the ghostly haar fogs and torrential sheets of near-constant wind and rain . . . it's a perfect setting for this female- Caldonbrae was less of a school, and more of an elite institution containing its own churning practices, a forever fortess turning within itself. Madam is such a beautifully atmospheric book, and it's one of my favourite things about it. The oppressive gloom of Caldonbrae Hall perching high on the cliffs above the grey sea, the bleak Scottish coastline flanking the school, the ghostly haar fogs and torrential sheets of near-constant wind and rain . . . it's a perfect setting for this female-focused dark academia-esque novel. Set at an elite all-girls boarding school, what seems like an excellent opportunity for a young Classics teacher soon becomes a nightmare as she realises the school's true purpose is training girls to be excellent wives rather than aspiring minds. Despite being set in 1993 and featuring references to significant figures such as Princess Diana, the school is largely closed off from outside society and influence to further Caldonbrae's ideology of an 'ideal woman'. Forget feminism and suffragettes; Caldonbrae's version of feminity is more aligned with everything from before the twentieth century. Some people may find it rather unrealistic, but honestly I wouldn't be entirely unsurprised if some bizarre upper-class undercover operation like this did come to light. Either way, I found it a compelling read. The pacing is on the slower side, but I liked the slow unwind. Women from the Classics are also vital in this story. From Medea to Medusa, their tales weave an undercurrent of defiance and possibility into students whose only prior purpose was to train themselves into perfection for a future husband. This defiance is most clear in the fourth years Rose teaches (especially Freddy, Nessa and Daisy), and they were the characters I was most fond of as a result. On the whole, it was a book I very much enjoyed bar a few bits. There are a handful of LGBTQ+ characters (only one clearly labelled on-page, the rest only vaguely referred to), but I wasn't really fond of how any of them were handled. There's a lot of potential within the setting of all-female boarding schools to explore the full extent of complex female relationships, but Madam doesn't go into this. I think another interesting angle for this story would've been through two sapphic students with a 'forbidden' relationship (unsurprisingly, Caldonbrae perpetuates the view that LGBTQ+ relationships and individuals are abnormal). A very small part of Madam tentatively examines the quiet exile of a small cohort of Japanese students in this incredibly white school with incredibly imperialist attitudes. In one scene, geishas are brought in to educate the Japanese students and the heroine conflates being a geisha with being a prostitute - it's a misunderstanding, perhaps, due to Western narratives perpetuating falsehoods about geishas, but it rubbed me the wrong way. However the wider inclusion of the Japanese students and the fact that the inherently white and classist setting of private English schools like Caldonbrae is somewhat examined in Madam is interesting. I wish it had been explored in further depth, but perhaps this would've been spreading the story too thin. But for anyone wanting a critique of academic institutions and how their history is rooted in colonialism, R.F. Kuang's Babel is worth a look. Overall, I thought it was a strong debut and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys dark academia with a female focus such as The Furies or Plain Bad Heroines. Phoebe Wynne writes beautifully and crafts such an atmosphere, so depending what their next project is, I'll likely pick it up. > 4/4.2 stars Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review! also so random but the author is the aunt of actor roman griffin davies from jojo rabbit * Did someone say . . . - female-focused dark academia? - for fans of The Secret History and Rebecca? - set at a boarding school in Scotland?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Max

    Definitely cleansing my palette with Madam after some of the questionable thrillers I've read taking place in schools. Madam is exceptional at using the school setting to both make it eerie and use the protagonist's own classics lessons as foreshadowing. Rose is very rootable in the sense of how bold she is. While she is trying to maintain a job at this extremely prestigious and secretive school, she is outspoken and ready to take a stand. While it may not come across that way when you start read Definitely cleansing my palette with Madam after some of the questionable thrillers I've read taking place in schools. Madam is exceptional at using the school setting to both make it eerie and use the protagonist's own classics lessons as foreshadowing. Rose is very rootable in the sense of how bold she is. While she is trying to maintain a job at this extremely prestigious and secretive school, she is outspoken and ready to take a stand. While it may not come across that way when you start reading, her character does grow in a very satisfactory way. In one that was new and intimidated by this huge boarding school and "mean girls", to one who is ready to plant seeds of doubt and prepared to make an escape. I like the themes and questions that Wynne brings up, which I do like having a somewhat concrete type of moral or answer when the book ends. While it could've been a little shorter, this would be a great read for those who want a strong new iteration of the creepy school trope.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anne Chafer

    Thank you to NetGalley and Quercus for the digital ARC of this book! Trigger warning: paedophilia, child abuse, sexual harassment God, this was hard to get through. I was very willing to give this a fair chance, would even say I was excited for it, but the longer I read the worse this got. Some of my issues with it, in no particular order: -The racism and tokenisation of people of colour, and tied to that, the main character Rose's white-saviour attitude. The diverse representation in this book con Thank you to NetGalley and Quercus for the digital ARC of this book! Trigger warning: paedophilia, child abuse, sexual harassment God, this was hard to get through. I was very willing to give this a fair chance, would even say I was excited for it, but the longer I read the worse this got. Some of my issues with it, in no particular order: -The racism and tokenisation of people of colour, and tied to that, the main character Rose's white-saviour attitude. The diverse representation in this book consists of one black family mentioned in passing at an Open Day scene (the main character uses that moment to let us know how upset she is that there are no people of colour at her school), and a group of "Asian girls" that study at the school. These girls are said to be Japanese on a couple occasions, the only reason for it being that the author wants to show us a scene where these girls are being trained as Geishas. The main character then proceeds to act scandalised, because obviously the author did not research Japanese culture enough to learn that the association Geisha = prostitute is demonising, belittling and generally rooted in racism. Other than that, the Japanese student's don't really talk, and when they do it's in stereotypical broken English, because how else could we tell that they're foreign? Oh, yes, we can also tell because their eyes are described as being "almond-shaped" and their hair silky, straight and black. Of course. Additionally, the main character spends the longest time making observations (to herself and other teachers in her school) that maybe more students of colour should be recruited, that she is so much better than the others for thinking people of colour are people too! Fuck that. -The plot was predictable, particularly that first prologue. Like, from 20% onwards I knew how everything would end. It is also a very weird plot. A lot of elements that look like they should be relevant are not as relevant as they should be, and they are picked back up at random points in the novel, mostly towards the end probably because the writer realised she had to resolve things or else. It is a very slow moving plot and there is no reason for that, because there is no atmospheric descriptions, no literary writing style that justifies it, nothing like that. Just scenes and scenes of class teaching, followed by arguments with whatever character we need to know, followed by Rose's sense of dread when she's on her own. Rinse and repeat. -Speaking of plot: specific mention to those two scenes of paedophilia and general fucked up shit. I did not flag this as spoilers because if you're considering reading this book, you should know this happens. And there was no need. They were included just for the shock factor. It was awful and horrible especially because there was no further point to it other than showing how bad this school is, which the author could have done in a myriad of other ways. The main character acted equally scared when she saw a student with her hair all shaved off, than when she saw teachers making students pleasure an old man sexually. This is not a horror novel and even if it was, no horror novel should include this type of stuff unless it's for a very, very good reason. If you're thinking of writing a book: Never do this, please. -The characters. Other than the main character, Rose, who moves to this school to teach, and three of her fifteen-year-old students, all the other characters are absolutely forgettable. I didn't realise that Mrs St Johns and Vivien were the same person until I was at the 96% mark. Or were they? Even after finishing the book, I am not sure. No characters are developed except for Rose, and she gets worse and worse as the novel goes on. So much so, that she has no role in the novel's climax. She does nothing but watch and leave. It is the three students she likes the most that do everything that triggers the end of the plot. Imagine! She doesn't hold back when it comes to calling out the abuse she witnesses, but none of that results in any meaningful consequences or victories other than the school's higher-ups being threatening to her and then not actually carrying out any punishment, letting her off the hook. The stakes are so low because there are no consequences to anything, so by the end I just did not care. -The incorporation of Classics into the novel. Why Classics? One could find female role models for the young students in any discipline, seriously. The mythology fragments provide good interludes to the main plot, and in fact, I think Wynne would be good at writing a mythology book instead, à la Edith Hamilton or Robert Graves. Her writing style suits these short tales of ancient myths. However, their content is absolutely wasted: the only real presence of these ancient women in the actual plot, beyond the student's two-sentence opinions on them, is the fact that the novel's climax is inspired by Dido's story (view spoiler)[: her funeral pyre inspires the arson and fire to the whole school (hide spoiler)] . It could have been interesting if the figure of Dido had been the primary interest of the students, but we are presented with so many ancient women that none are used enough. -The basic stereotypical feminism of it all. How do we know that Rose's mother was a feminist? Oh, yes, we are told that she went to marches to burn bras. No, I don't care that this was a thing that happened in the 70s. Talk about stereotypical! Show me she is a feminist through conversations between her and her daughter, don't tell me. All the "feminist" elements of the novel reek of white feminism and privilege, and they're boring. It's 2020 (or 1993 in the novel, but still) and we don't need any more "white girls get empowered by their teacher who wears lipstick like it's revolutionary." Anyway. The writing style did not bother me, but other than that I think this book is deeply flawed and I hate that editors and agents greenlit this. I would not recommend.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    A brooding boarding school in Scotland, a teacher who left under circumstances no one seems willing to discuss and students who know more than they are letting on. I couldn’t resist reading it. According to the publisher this novel contains “shades of The Secret History, The Stepford Wives and a dash of Circe.” Well, yes and no. There is a small group of students studying the classics at an elite school. So, there’s that but the teacher is in over her head, the students are less than willing sch A brooding boarding school in Scotland, a teacher who left under circumstances no one seems willing to discuss and students who know more than they are letting on. I couldn’t resist reading it. According to the publisher this novel contains “shades of The Secret History, The Stepford Wives and a dash of Circe.” Well, yes and no. There is a small group of students studying the classics at an elite school. So, there’s that but the teacher is in over her head, the students are less than willing scholars and the only dash of Circe is that the stories of Agrippina, Dido, Antigone, Medusa etc. are taught. I’ll concede to “riveting, modern gothic” because it certainly kept my attention. Bestseller potential.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kristy

    A gothic boarding school tale that falls flat Rose Christie is nervous but excited when she's hired on as the new Head of Classics at Caldonbrae Hall, a boarding school for girls in Scotland. A renowned establishment for 150 years, Caldonbrae is a far step above Rose's current teaching gig and will offer a chance to help her mother, who is struggling with MS. Rose is the first external hire in over a decade, making her an immediate outsider, along with her youthful age. She quickly feels over her A gothic boarding school tale that falls flat Rose Christie is nervous but excited when she's hired on as the new Head of Classics at Caldonbrae Hall, a boarding school for girls in Scotland. A renowned establishment for 150 years, Caldonbrae is a far step above Rose's current teaching gig and will offer a chance to help her mother, who is struggling with MS. Rose is the first external hire in over a decade, making her an immediate outsider, along with her youthful age. She quickly feels over her head at Caldonbrae, where the teachers and students alike seem to lord over her. But soon Rose realizes that everyone seems to be on to a secret, except her. Why did the last Classics teacher, Jane, leave so suddenly? As Rose learns more about Caldonbrae, she quickly realizes it is nothing like she expected. "One way or another someone was going to get eaten alive here, Rose realized. She'd be damned if it was her." I'm a sucker for boarding school stories, but this one did not live up to the promised hype for me. It grew on me a small bit by the end, but when I say this is a slow burning tale, I mean SLOW. I was incredibly tempted to "DNF" this book, but stuck with it, skimming or fast reading portions of it. The big twist, so to speak, doesn't come until halfway through (55% in fact). At that point, we have sat through lots of classics lessons and pontificating about Caldonbrae and gotten to know a lot of girls at the school. Although, "getting to know" is probably generous, as there's a lack of character development throughout most of MADAM. There are a variety of girls at Caldonbrae thrust upon us, but I found it nearly impossible to keep many of them straight. (It doesn't help that the UK version of schooling is hard to follow, with thirds, fourths, and more tossed about, but rarely ages. Woe to us idiotic Americans!) We know little about Rose, are offered a scarce backstory, and pieces about her father that are supposed to form her personality seem tossed in haphazardly. Instead she drove me crazy with her dithering and inability to make decisions. Most of the time I just wanted to shake her. She was in an impossible situation, perhaps, but she seemed unable to grasp anything for much of the book, or realize the seriousness of her circumstances. I think MADAM was going for ominous and creepy--everything building up to its explosive ending (which is hinted at in the beginning pages), but it falls short. Instead, it seems more annoying and perplexing. When the twist is revealed, it's an interesting one, yes, but I couldn't help but question it, wonder how such a thing could be sustainable. MADAM just couldn't keep up the eerie tone it was trying for. There's definite storytelling potential here, and I did find myself somewhat attached to a few of the girls by the end, when things pick up slightly. MADAM tries to align the classics (think tales of Medea and Antigone and such) with its boarding school girls, but often the tacked on tales of these mythical and classical women feel like unnecessary, added on pieces. It reaches too high, trying for a feminist angle, but falls short, with a fast ending that cannot possibly live up to all those classical, high-reaching aims. "...she wondered how an establishment that promised to educate 'girls of the world' could somehow make its women feel so small." Overall, there's a lot going on in MADAM, but it just didn't gel for me. I couldn't root for Rose for most of the novel, and the classic pieces inserted into the plot didn't work. There were sparks I enjoyed, but overall, this wasn't a favorite. 2.5 stars. I received a copy of this novel from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nadia

    Caldonbrae Hall, a prestigious girls boarding school with a long history and tradition located on a remote Scottish peninsula, has hired a new teacher, which had not happened for a decade. Rose is a young Classics teacher who is very excited and honoured to be chosen to teach at Caldonbrae. However, as soon as she arrives in Scotland, it is obvious that this is an unusual school, and education does not appear to be the main focus here.  Rose's story is enriched with mythological tales of strong w Caldonbrae Hall, a prestigious girls boarding school with a long history and tradition located on a remote Scottish peninsula, has hired a new teacher, which had not happened for a decade. Rose is a young Classics teacher who is very excited and honoured to be chosen to teach at Caldonbrae. However, as soon as she arrives in Scotland, it is obvious that this is an unusual school, and education does not appear to be the main focus here.  Rose's story is enriched with mythological tales of strong women analysed at her lessons with her students. I wasn't sure at first what to think about that but as the book progressed I looked forward to these interludes. Madam has an intriguing premise that will keep you guessing what on earth is the headmaster and everyone at the school up to. Although I would welcome more character development in the book, I found Madam an impressive debut novel and an enjoyable read.  Many thanks to the publisher for my review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

  15. 4 out of 5

    luce

    DNF 25% When netgalley approved my requested for Madam I was low-key ecstatic. However, my giddiness was short lived. This was not the Gothic story I was hoping it would be...the 'boarding school' setting leaves a lot to be desired and although on GR this novel falls under the LGBTQ+ genre this is not a queer novel (even if I haven't finished it I have a feeling that there may be one side character who is queer). I probably could have been fine with Madam not being a very Gothic or sapphic read b DNF 25% When netgalley approved my requested for Madam I was low-key ecstatic. However, my giddiness was short lived. This was not the Gothic story I was hoping it would be...the 'boarding school' setting leaves a lot to be desired and although on GR this novel falls under the LGBTQ+ genre this is not a queer novel (even if I haven't finished it I have a feeling that there may be one side character who is queer). I probably could have been fine with Madam not being a very Gothic or sapphic read but I just could not look past the way the story is presented. I don't think the author is to 'blame' for this but their editor. disclaimer: I did not finish this book so this may prove to be a fantastic read. If you are thinking of reading this book I recommend you read reviews from other readers. Here are a few of the 'issues' I had with this book (feel free to disagree): -the prologue, which takes place in summer 1993, strikes me as a wee bit overwritten. We have "soft silk dresses", "slim girlish arms", "the cool sweet air of the night swirled high above them as if in mockery". Still, I did like the following line, "the school building felt none of this urgency, standing firm despite its burning injury, holding fast as it was eaten from the inside out", which reminded me of Shirley Jackson. -the prologue is followed by a letter from the headmaster to former head of Classics which doesn't add a lot to the narrative. I guess it hints at some mystery, but it was kind of too on the nose (her employment "must be terminated" and it promises "severe repercussions" if she were to discuss "the school anywhere outside its grounds"). -we then are introduced to our supposed protagonist, Rose. There is clunky scene in which she speaking to her mother on the phone, followed by her rather detailed journey to Caldonbrae Hall. Although Rose is "young" (twenty-six) she will be the new head of Classics at Caldonbrae. Her mother, who lives in Kent, is sick (cue dramatic "cough" to signal she is not well) and Rose feels kind of guilty at the prospect of going off to Scotland. Anyhow, we read of her journey. She stops at a cafe bar where a man with strong There Be Strangers™ vibes makes some cheesily ominous comments. Her train is late (oh no!) and Rose flushes "with alarm". Next thing you now Rose is Caldonbrae Hall and her driver is a bit brusque. Do we get a detailed description of the place? No. Do we read of Rose making into her new home? No. The scene cuts from her leaving the car to "the following morning". Talk about anticlimactic. What was the point of that drawn-out journey? Once we get to the interesting place the story just skips ahead only to skip back with a quick "the night before" in which we just read of Rose being informed that the headmaster was too busy to come meet her and she is taken to her flat (in a building near the hall? How big is it? How many flats? Do all members of staff live there? Who knows. It may be a grey building). -When the narrative skips ahead again Rose is walking about the place, and we get a very supreficial overview of Caldonbrae, which is described as "hauntingly empty" (insert eye roll here). She spots a creepy girl who, of course, has "dark hair" and "staring eyes". Ffs. Then we get this classic line, "when she looked back at the school again—was it minutes, hours later?" -There is no sense of place and the passage of time is not clearly rendered. I have no idea how many members of staff Rose meets, how many staff members there are....she's given a timetable that isn't correct or something and that's kind of it. The one or two colleagues she talks too are creepy and allegedly older than she is. -Rose's first lessons are not great, the girls are disrespectful and seem to claim that they had a hand in her predecessor's departure. Rose is unnerved by the creepy girl. Every member of staff she talks to sounds as if they belong to a cult. Rose keeps forgetting the strict rules (she has to wear a smart blazer at all times, she can only address her colleagues as 'Madam' or 'Sir'—surely this would get confusing? If she asking after someone wouldn't it be easier to use their surname than to refer to the position they are in or the subject they teach?—and she asks too many questions). Although Rose seems to know that this school is more traditional and old-fashioned than her previous one, and that she is in fact closer in age to the older students than to youngest members of staff, she seems surprised that her colleagues would not select movies such as Batman Returns or Alien 3 on Movie Nights (a real ingénue). -the writing. Not only do we have "squinting smiles" but apparently characters cannot simply "say" things (a girl "piped up", another one "chimed in", they "snap", "bark", "garble", and Rose "splutters" a total of 7 times in the course of the whole book). The author goes to great efforts in order not to use "said"....and it shows (not in a good way). A great book that discusses this (the under-usage of "said") is Stephen King's On Writing. -not only is Rose a boring and nondescript main character but she is far too credulous. She seems more fitting to a book set in the early 19th century and not the 1990s. Given that I dislike everything about this book I am doing myself a favour and calling it quits. The best thing about Madam is its cover design.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    Madam by Phoebe Wynne is a gothic historical mystery/thriller set in a boarding school on the Scottish cliffs. Of course with my love of creepy boarding school thrillers I thought I would love this one but unfortunately as the saying goes we can’t love them all. Rose Christie is the first new teacher hired at the elite Caldonbrae Hall in over a decade. At 26 years old Rose is proud to be the new head of the classics department but stepping into the halls of Caldonbrae Hall Rose quickly begins to Madam by Phoebe Wynne is a gothic historical mystery/thriller set in a boarding school on the Scottish cliffs. Of course with my love of creepy boarding school thrillers I thought I would love this one but unfortunately as the saying goes we can’t love them all. Rose Christie is the first new teacher hired at the elite Caldonbrae Hall in over a decade. At 26 years old Rose is proud to be the new head of the classics department but stepping into the halls of Caldonbrae Hall Rose quickly begins to see not all is as it seems inside Caldonbrae Hall. Picking up Madam I quickly started thinking that the story was not what I expected I was going to get and sometimes that is perfectly fine but not so much here. This book reminded me a lot of a young adult fantasy I read a few years back and I really enjoyed that one but this one seemed to take the same concept and make me dislike it. I really didn’t enjoy the characters in this and the story seemed to drag on with the dark material that was probably supposed to shock a reader actually just feeling dull and lifeless since I couldn’t get engrossed in this one. I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley. For more reviews please visit https://carriesbookreviews.com/

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alexis Hall

    This was … a thing I read? I’m not sure it super worked for me, despite it seeming to be the sort of thing I’d like? Since it centres on a naïve young classics teacher joining an elite board school of the gothic AF variety that, of course, turns out to be evil AF too. That’s not a spoiler but this review will contain spoilers throughout. So, y’know, you’ve been warned. Though I will say, the plot is kind of obvious from the get-go? There wasn’t a single twist that I didn’t see coming way, way bef This was … a thing I read? I’m not sure it super worked for me, despite it seeming to be the sort of thing I’d like? Since it centres on a naïve young classics teacher joining an elite board school of the gothic AF variety that, of course, turns out to be evil AF too. That’s not a spoiler but this review will contain spoilers throughout. So, y’know, you’ve been warned. Though I will say, the plot is kind of obvious from the get-go? There wasn’t a single twist that I didn’t see coming way, way before the central character and while this isn’t per se a problem (texts are as much about the HOWS as the WHATS) I did feel in this particular book it kind of was because it’s relying heavily on the gothic/thriller/mystery elements to keep you reading. And, um, it’s honestly a bit of a slog? I was also slightly reminded of The Amber Fury but only, I think, because that is about liberating and/or driving young women bananas by teaching them classics. I don’t know why all classics teachers seem to feel this about their subject. Maybe I should try to write a book about how my presentation of the Planck constant liberates some marginalised youngsters from the hitherto unquestioned restrictions of their existence. Although if this and The Amber Fury have shown me anything it’s that depicting “good” teaching on page is borderline impossible. ANYWAY. The central ‘twist’ (although it’s barely a twist because it’s fucking obvious the moment the heroine steps over the threshold) of Madam is that Caldonbrae Hall—a school built on an isolated Scottish peninsula by an obviously dodgy Victorian dude with six daughters all named after feminine virtues—isn’t actually a school that prepares young women for their future in the traditional sense. It instead prepares, by which I mean grooms, them to be trophy wives for important menz. And there are, like, pathways depending on how good a trophy wife you’re likely to be: Elite for the top strata of menz, Professional for barristers and doctors and shit, and Compassion for … old rich dudes? Or else, if no old rich dude wants you, staying on at the school a la Jane Eyre and Lowood to become a teacher yourself. I mean, it’s meant to be shocking but it’s obviously nonsense. Also sexually abusive because, I don’t know, apparently the book didn’t trust us to be shocked enough at the notion of young women being psychologically controlled and sold off and needed us to also show us a lesson where they’re taught to give blowjobs to a notably physically repulsive teacher? It kind of reminded me a bit of the television adaption of The Handmaid’s Tale where the heroine is at the anti-feminist brainwashing centre (which is in the book) and one of the other brainwashee’s says the wrong thing and gets her eye gouged out (which definitely isn’t the book). And I’m not saying getting your eye gouged out isn’t terrible BUT THE WHOLE BRAINWASHING THING IS TERRIBLE TO BEGIN WITH. One gets the message Caldonbrae Hall is evil beyond reckoning at the point they are SELLING YOUNG WOMEN. We don’t need to see them being forced to worship the specifically unpleasant dong of a specifically unpleasant man. Also it just makes zero sense from a pedagogical perspective. You could teach the same lesson with a goddamn dildo. Which, for the record, would still be absolutely inappropriate in every conceivable way. But it wouldn’t feel as deliberately, crassly and gratuitously calculated to shock and appall. Oh God, and just don’t get me STARTED on the Japanese (or generically Asian? The book wavers on this point) girls who the school have recently taken on as part of a plan to take their SELLING YOUNG WOMEN business international. Unlike the other girls the heroine interacts with, who are at least somewhat distinguished by personality and appearance, these girls are all undistinguishably almond-eyed with silky hair and it later turns out they’re being trained to be Geishas. Which the heroine is all outraged about. But, like, again this makes no sense? Firstly, Geishas aren’t prostitutes and it’s racist to assume they are, and … like … I don’t understand why, if you wanted to your daughter to become a Geisha, you’d send her to a random British school in Scotland? Instead of, y’know, an actual Geisha house? Okay so I guess I didn’t like this book? The writing seems fine? I appreciated the gothic descriptions of the school and sea and the storm-thrashed Scottish countryside. Although I felt the characterisation was wavery at best. There’s a big cast here, between the girls and the staff, but I really wish I understood more about what was motivating the (male) headmaster and the (female) deputy head to, you know, do this? Especially because there’s some hint that he does not come from any sort of privileged background. There’s also a self-hating, alcoholic lesbian who constantly lies to the heroine and has a kind wild crush on her so, err, that was also uncomfortable-making for all the wrong reasons. Basically everyone is awful as they kind of deserve to be for colluding in such a disgusting system—which might have been an attempt at some broader point on the toll of complicity but, who know? The problem here is that because we know the school burns down catastrophically (this is the opening chapter) all the older girls have to be brainwashed beyond hope and the staff complicit beyond redemption in order to—on some level—semi-justify their grim fate. The heroine herself at some point kind of concludes that most of the upper school (beyond her favoured three) are too damaged and brainwashed to be saved. Which … BAD TEACHING. You do not give up the kids. Ever. As for the heroine, she mostly behaves like she wants to further the plot of a semi-gothic novel, by being cowed and defiant pretty much at random? She’s also right-on in this way that feels annoying and insincere—like constantly telling The Self-Hating Lesbian that it’s okay to be gay, and wanting to white saviour the Japanese girls. There’s shades of Jane Eyre in here, and shades of the second Mrs de Winter, in her insecurities, her awareness of her relatively humble background. But I don’t think she was consistent enough for me to form any real opinion of her beyond her role in moving the narrative forward. Also, it just didn’t make sense that the school would hire her in the first place. I think she’s meant to be awesome teacher, plus they seem to feel they can control her somehow, and force her to submit to what the school wants and does. But there must be easier ways. Better people to choose. Surely? And, oh God, now I’m just nitpicking and whinging. I should also note the book is specifically set in the early 90s because I don’t think the school would even work as a concept in a world where people have ready access to mobiles and the internet. Not that I think it worked at a concept in a book set in the 1990s. So. Yeah. Not for me this one. And, honestly, it’s kind of hard for me to see who exactly it would, could or might be for.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Quirkyreader

    First off, I won this as a goodreads giveaway. Thank you St. Martins Press. This book gripped me from the first and I wanted to finish it in one sitting. If you liked “The Handmaid’s Tale”, this goes way beyond it. Mostly what I though was unnerving about this story is that parts of it might actually be true. Read it and find out what I mean.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Daviau

    I had a feeling I’d enjoy this book but I had no idea that I’d love it so much that it would become a contender for my favourite book of the year! It might be classified as a slow burn in true gothic mystery fashion but it was absolutely riveting and I never felt like I wanted the pace to pick up, a slow burn was perfect for this story. I was hooked from start to finish and I couldn’t put the book down, I had a deep burning desire to find out how it would turn out. I really couldn’t have loved t I had a feeling I’d enjoy this book but I had no idea that I’d love it so much that it would become a contender for my favourite book of the year! It might be classified as a slow burn in true gothic mystery fashion but it was absolutely riveting and I never felt like I wanted the pace to pick up, a slow burn was perfect for this story. I was hooked from start to finish and I couldn’t put the book down, I had a deep burning desire to find out how it would turn out. I really couldn’t have loved this book more, it had everything I love in a horror novel and heaps more. I think the perfect way to describe this book is Stepford Wives meets Catherine House and if that doesn’t make you want to pick up this book and devour it then I don’t know what will!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chandler Baker

    Imagine if Donna Tartt and Margaret Atwood got together to write a creepy, suspenseful novel about a school for young women in the Scottish Highlands. The result is Madam, a book I couldn't for the life of me put down. Brooding and unsettling, Wynne paints a gorgeous picture that only serves to camouflage the dark secrets she's hidden within. Imagine if Donna Tartt and Margaret Atwood got together to write a creepy, suspenseful novel about a school for young women in the Scottish Highlands. The result is Madam, a book I couldn't for the life of me put down. Brooding and unsettling, Wynne paints a gorgeous picture that only serves to camouflage the dark secrets she's hidden within.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erin A. Craig

    A chilling, gothic, feminist tale of just what could be going on behind the closed doors of elite boarding schools. The horror built with relentless pace. I devoured this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bandit

    This book was done a great disservice on Netgalley by being categorized as women’s fiction. I almost passed it by, but gothic mystery grabbed my attention, especially with this being October and all and sure enough…definitely not women’s fiction. I mean, it’s written by a woman and features primarily all female cast, so maybe technically, but not in any way that matters. What this book is…is a work of feminist dystopian fiction, handmaids in boarding school. Because so much of feminist dystopias This book was done a great disservice on Netgalley by being categorized as women’s fiction. I almost passed it by, but gothic mystery grabbed my attention, especially with this being October and all and sure enough…definitely not women’s fiction. I mean, it’s written by a woman and features primarily all female cast, so maybe technically, but not in any way that matters. What this book is…is a work of feminist dystopian fiction, handmaids in boarding school. Because so much of feminist dystopias concentrate on reproduction rights, so usually features women, maybe of a certain age, this one takes it back to teens. Why not start early in the game and get every advantage. Why not shape the perfect wives of tomorrow today? That actually can be a slogan for Caldonbrae. An atmospherically forbidding old world boarding school establishment set in the atmospherically forbidding Scottish highlands. Remote, strict and dedicated to providing a very specific sort of education, Caldonbrae’s goal is to turn out the perfect wives for the man who can afford them, the upper echelons of society, etc. But, of course, it’s a discreet establishment that protects its secrets. So when our protagonist, a young teacher, gets offered a job there, it initially just seems too good to be real. Financial circumstances being what they are, dire, she has no choice but to accept the position and comes to live and teach the challenging difficult girls there and then slowly she uncovers the truth of the place and once she knows it, has to decide whether it’s something she can possibly tolerate or something to rebel against. You know it’ll go somewhat incendiary, because the novel starts with the fire. But you have to read it to find out the whys and hows and aftermaths. And this is why this book must not be dismissed as women’s fiction…it’s good and smart and alarming. It tackles ideas, not insipid romances or reproduction. It actively takes on The Stepford Wife scenario and goes to the source, goes wild with it, really. The best thing about this book is how effective it is in the warped logic and arguments behind the Caldonbrae’s ideology. The girls are systematically brainwashed into assuming traditional conservative roles the society has ascribed to them for centuries to such a degree that they don’t even think to question, mostly. It takes one outsider, one educator of Classics, to start a revolution of a sort, to ignite liberal thinking, to challenge the norms. The use of Classics is very clever here too, it showcases traditional female roles in history and mythology (so basically victims or whores or manipulators) and the tragic ends they came to and extends that thinking to the present day, a subject ideal for extrapolating, teaching, igniting fires. There’s a reason feminist dystopias are on a rise lately, the reason arguably the most famous of them all got a sequel last year after all this time, women’s rights (such as they are) are a relatively recent thing and seem to be constantly under attack and yes I am writing this as one of the world’s largest democracies currently contemplates revisiting abortion subject. Seriously. Why and how can this still be something to question in this day and age? This is supposed to be the future. So it’s all eerily timely and scary and important to read about, to talk about. This book definitely brings something new to that table. It’s original, well written and oh so dark, especially the ending. Definitely a worthy read. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ellie Spencer

    Rounded down from around 3.5 Stars Madam follows Rose, the new classics teacher at a mysterious and foreboding boarding school. Tradition, class and secrets run rampant throughout the school. Nothing is as it seems, and the power the school holds over Rose's life is more than she could have ever expected. I absolutely loved the setting of this novel. The boarding school in the wilds of Scotland felt deeply disturbing and was a perfect back drop for a thriller. I found myself speeding through the Rounded down from around 3.5 Stars Madam follows Rose, the new classics teacher at a mysterious and foreboding boarding school. Tradition, class and secrets run rampant throughout the school. Nothing is as it seems, and the power the school holds over Rose's life is more than she could have ever expected. I absolutely loved the setting of this novel. The boarding school in the wilds of Scotland felt deeply disturbing and was a perfect back drop for a thriller. I found myself speeding through the first section of the book, I just could not get enough of the creepy setting. I also really enjoyed the parts involving Greek mythology. What I know about Greek mythology is from primary school, so I really learnt a lot from this book. Unfortunately, the book fell slightly flat for me after this. There were definitely parts that I enjoyed, but I found it hard to connect to the characters, especially Rose. Rose just wasn't the heroine I was looking for, she left me feeling frustrated and confused. At times things felt a little repetitive too, Rose would gain strength to fight the powers that be, and then would submit again. That being said, I think this was a great debut novel by and I will be keeping my eyes out for more from Phoebe Wynne. I feel the ending could have been setting up a sequel, which I would definitely read, especially if it was set in another boarding school!! I want to thank NetGalley, the publishers and author for allowing me to read this novel and give my personal thoughts. I would recommend this book to thriller fans who want a different setting, especially those with an underlying interest in mythology.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    The book opens with a prologue that, to my mind, does just what a prologue should do: raise all sorts of questions that linger in your mind as you read the rest of the book and be something you feel compelled to return to and read again once you’ve finished the book. In Caldonbrae Hall, the author has certainly created a creepy setting for a story. If I was Rose I’d have turned right around at the first of glimpse of its exterior, and certainly once I’d seen its labyrinthine interior. Since Rose The book opens with a prologue that, to my mind, does just what a prologue should do: raise all sorts of questions that linger in your mind as you read the rest of the book and be something you feel compelled to return to and read again once you’ve finished the book. In Caldonbrae Hall, the author has certainly created a creepy setting for a story. If I was Rose I’d have turned right around at the first of glimpse of its exterior, and certainly once I’d seen its labyrinthine interior. Since Rose is at Caldonbrae to take up the post of Head of Classics, the reference to a labyrinth, such as the one in which the Minotaur roamed, seems appropriate. Given the school’s exclusivity and prestige as well as the fact she’s the first new member of teaching staff in over a decade, Rose might have expected some initial trouble fitting in. However, she’s unprepared for the strange nature of the school’s practices, such as the fact teachers are addressed as either ‘Madam’ or ‘Sir’ and not by their actual names, or the old-fashioned uniforms worn by the girls. In fact, the whole school feels like it’s caught in a time-warp. Rose is also taken aback by the chilly attitude, even outright hostility, of the pupils in some of her classes. More like a prison than a boarding school, Caldonbrae has a disturbingly sentient quality. At one point, as Rose makes her way to a class, she compares its long passageways to the bronchioles of lungs, likening the school to a great monster. And in one of her rare excursions outside, Rose perceives the lighted windows of the school building as “like a thousand eyes staring out at her accusingly”. And if you thought Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, was creepy, just wait until you meet the Secretaries who manage every detail of daily life at Caldonbrae – and beyond. Rose’s discovery of what’s really going on at the school and the nature of the ‘strange, ugly destiny’ the girls are being prepared for didn’t come as a great surprise to this reader. Safe to say, it encompasses the worst excesses of patriarchy, nepotism and privilege. For Rose herself it comes with the addition of emotional blackmail and veiled threats about what might ensue should she disclose to the outside world what she has learned. Punctuating the narrative are excerpts from classical texts describing the lives of Greek and Roman women, both real and mythological. All are examples of women who asserted their independence but died, by their own hand or by the hand of others, as a consequence. I admired Rose’s valiant attempts to pass on her own enthusiasm for her subject to her pupils and to convince them they too have other options in life. Can Rose fan the flames of rebellion in the girls or will they smoulder into nothing? Combining elements of suspense with a distinctly dystopian feel, Madam makes for an unsettling but utterly compelling read, and an impressive debut.

  25. 5 out of 5

    charlotte,

    On my blog. Rep: lesbian side character CWs: paedophilia, sexual harrassment, child abuse, grooming, lesbophobia, teacher-student relationships, gaslighting, brainwashing Galley provided by publisher If Madam aims at being a horror novel, I think where it failed is that, instead of building a sense of unease, a sense of foreboding, it just managed to make me feel progressively more and more uncomfortable. Its plot almost straddles the line between a thriller and something more horrific, but fulf On my blog. Rep: lesbian side character CWs: paedophilia, sexual harrassment, child abuse, grooming, lesbophobia, teacher-student relationships, gaslighting, brainwashing Galley provided by publisher If Madam aims at being a horror novel, I think where it failed is that, instead of building a sense of unease, a sense of foreboding, it just managed to make me feel progressively more and more uncomfortable. Its plot almost straddles the line between a thriller and something more horrific, but fulfilling neither particularly successfully. The story follows Rose Christie (and forgive me if I’m wrong here, but is this not the name of the author of My Immortal?), who is offered a job as Head of Classics at a remote all-girls’ school in Scotland, Caldonbrae Hall. But Caldonbrae Hall is not all that it seems to be, with strange terminology it seems Rose is not yet allowed to know. And then the truth starts to come to light… I think, primarily, I didn’t like about this book that its plot twists amounted to revealing that the entire school was set up to groom and sexually abuse young girls. Obviously, this is not in and of itself a story not to be told, but I feel it should be told in a different way. A way where, perhaps, each successive reveal isn’t just placed there to disgust you further (shall we talk about how, at one point, there’s the revelation that a group of Japanese girls are kept there, to be sold as prostitutes (this review has a better analysis of that than I could provide)? Or when Rose walks in on girls being taught how to pleasure one of their teachers?). There is the occasional handwaving attempt at mentioning the sheer amount of damage this could do to the girls (and vague mentions of how they’re “brainwashed to want the abuse”), but there’s no real dwelling on it. It’s a plot and book framed to shock the sensibilities of both Rose and its readers. And that, I think, is where it goes fatally wrong. None of it is treated with any sense of respect. Case in point is the difference between the girls that Rose likes and the ones she does not — those primarily being the ones who are in positions of relative power as students. Each has been abused in this school, that much Rose does allow. But she considers those she likes (i.e. those who like her) in much more positive terms than those she does not (i.e. those who don’t like her, for whatever reason). She sees those she likes as victims, those she does not as somehow not. I think where this book also falls short is that it fails to imbue any sense of hope in the narrative. You watch this school, the insistence of it that there’s nothing wrong here, Rose’s inability to get word out and get help, steadily chip away at her resolve and think, okay maybe it ends with her entire buy-in. And I guess that’s the horror of it. That this is how these things start to work, you start to rationalise the small things and then the bigger things steadily shrink in size. The slippery slope argument of psychology. But, God, does it make for a depressing read. This is where I think it seems to try and fail to straddle thriller and horror. The horror is in this slippery slope, but the subject matter seems more like it was going for a thriller. Where, in the end, the bad guys get their comeuppance and the good guys win. Instead, it’s almost by chance that Rose gets out of it, gets the girls out of it. And then, just to make things even more depressing, the epilogue hints at the entire cycle starting over again.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erin Clemence

    Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel received in exchange for an honest review. Expected publication date: May 18, 2021 Caldonbrae Hall has stood sentry on the cliffs of Scotland and for 150 years it has served as the most prestigious and elite boarding school in the country. When young and inexperienced Rose Christie is given the oppourtunity to work at Caldonbrae, she jumps at the chance. Working at such an elite school has its advantages Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel received in exchange for an honest review. Expected publication date: May 18, 2021 Caldonbrae Hall has stood sentry on the cliffs of Scotland and for 150 years it has served as the most prestigious and elite boarding school in the country. When young and inexperienced Rose Christie is given the oppourtunity to work at Caldonbrae, she jumps at the chance. Working at such an elite school has its advantages, as Rose discovers, when her ailing mother’s nursing care is provided for by the school’s administration and all Rose has to do is commit to teaching at Caldronbrae. But as the year goes on, Rose begins to see the darker side to Caldronbrae, and its real purpose for the female students within its walls. However, Rose also knows the danger that comes from speaking out, to both herself and her mother, after hearing whispers about what happened to the teacher who came before her. Will Rose risk everything to save her students from their future? “Madam” is the debut title by author, Phoebe Wynne. Set high atop the cliffs of Scotland, Caldonbrae Hall immediately brings a sense of foreboding and secrecy, all told through Wynne’s descriptive language. The plot is well-developed, and the novel itself has a good flow. I immediately connected with Rose and wanted her to succeed, rooting for her as she battles the “establishment”. This novel takes place in the 90s although I feel that the time frame does not suit the story. “Madam” reads more as a 1960s or 70s story with the limited technology and feminist ideals of that time. I felt a real disconnect to the time period, and taking place in the 90s really did not seem to have any important distinction in the novel (the setting is so secluded, that the story could have taken place in any time period) . Going in, I wanted a paranormal or spooky factor hiding behind the walls of Caldonbrae. I expected ghosts, or secrets long-dead, or even some out-there science-fiction component, but what I did not expect was the dark feminist tale that I got in “Madam”. I enjoyed most of the characters and I definitely enjoyed the Scotland setting, although the boarding school component is certainly not a unique concept. This novel had a little bit of a "Mona Lisa Smile” aspect to it (which is not a bad thing) , mixed with “The Stepford Wives”. Well-written (especially for a debut author) with some rallying feminism and powerful characters, “Madam” is an enjoyable, yet dark, tale. And that ending? Holy cow. Well done, Wynne! I am intrigued.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    Rose Christie starts works at Calonbrae Hall, a boarding school for privileged girls that come from wealthy and influential families. The school has been going for years and is located in a remote part of Scotland. She is employed as the head of classics and cannot believe her luck at being recommended for the job. Rose soon realises that maybe this is not her dream job after all. The pupils are reluctant to learn and education seems to be on the back burner for these elite girls. The male teache Rose Christie starts works at Calonbrae Hall, a boarding school for privileged girls that come from wealthy and influential families. The school has been going for years and is located in a remote part of Scotland. She is employed as the head of classics and cannot believe her luck at being recommended for the job. Rose soon realises that maybe this is not her dream job after all. The pupils are reluctant to learn and education seems to be on the back burner for these elite girls. The male teaches are called Sir and the female teachers Madam . Rose has her own ideals on how to teach ,but this traditional school wants to bend her to their shape and make her like all the other teachers. What did happened to her predecessor and why does nobody talk about her? A riveting book that held my attention. I loved the classic stories that Rose taught and looked forward to their extracts. Loved how the stories contained strong female characters, where the school is churning out mild, disciplined young ladies preparing them to be the perfect wives!! A riveting debut book that’s beautifully written. Thank you to Netgalley for my copy in exchange for a review.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    I enjoyed the gothic feel of this book and found it quite surprising. I spent much of the novel wondering what on Earth was going on- in a good way- and some of the revelations were really quite dark. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Rose Christie, a 26-year old Classics teacher, gets a job at Caldonbrae, an exclusive girls-only boarding school in a remote windswept coastal area of Scotland. Her excitement at this new challenge soon turns to dismay when she realizes that, at this elite establishment, not all is what it seems. The conservative mentality of the teachers and students is a culture shock for independent-minded Rose. However, this is just the start of her problems. There seem to be more sinister – and dangerous – Rose Christie, a 26-year old Classics teacher, gets a job at Caldonbrae, an exclusive girls-only boarding school in a remote windswept coastal area of Scotland. Her excitement at this new challenge soon turns to dismay when she realizes that, at this elite establishment, not all is what it seems. The conservative mentality of the teachers and students is a culture shock for independent-minded Rose. However, this is just the start of her problems. There seem to be more sinister – and dangerous – secrets related to the departure of her predecessor. The more facts Rose uncovers, the greater her conviction that she should escape Caldonbrae. But considering the long-reaching tentacles of the institution, does she even have such a choice? Phoebe Wynne’s debut novel is touted as a feminist Gothic work, with “shades of The Secret History”. This is what drew me to it in the first place, but I am sorry to say that I was quite disappointed, and it took some effort for me to complete the book. For a novel set in 1992, the facts described in the book are quite over-the-top (even though, admittedly, chauvinistic mentalities are still rampant thirty years later). So, perhaps, Madam is best approached as a fable or fantasy – not unlike the Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra, but with a more feminist slant and without the more abstruse fantastical elements. Even if one is fine with that, though, the story remains unconvincing and the dialogue and narrative style not particularly striking or original. The characters seem stilted and, for a feminist lead, Rose often comes across as rather pathetic. She spends most of the book going around asking questions and getting no answers – at one point, her students actually tell her “…stop asking us questions, it’s so frustrating” and it’s a feeling which, as a reader, I fully shared. Despite my reservations I did find something to enjoy in the novel. The suffocating sense of dread was well brought out, the Gothic elements were suitably atmospheric and I liked the idea of the notes or summaries about women from Classical history and myth and the way their stories were worked into the tale. For fairness’ sake, I should also note that some reviewers have compared Phoebe Wynne to such luminaries as Naomi Alderman and Margaret Attwood. I must confess I’m less enthusiastic. https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/20...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Raven

    I usually shy away from reviewing books that I have really not enjoyed, but in the spirit of balance, and my credibility as a blogger, I couldn’t go without putting Madam in my round up. I eventually made it through the whole book with a fair few stops and starts, and wanted a second opinion, so saying nothing about its contents, I passed it on to Mama Raven for a little look see. Mama Raven unceremoniously tossed it at page 100 with a few choice words. A picture is emerging isn’t it? First of a I usually shy away from reviewing books that I have really not enjoyed, but in the spirit of balance, and my credibility as a blogger, I couldn’t go without putting Madam in my round up. I eventually made it through the whole book with a fair few stops and starts, and wanted a second opinion, so saying nothing about its contents, I passed it on to Mama Raven for a little look see. Mama Raven unceremoniously tossed it at page 100 with a few choice words. A picture is emerging isn’t it? First of all this is being compared with Rebecca and The Handmaid’s Tale, two of the finest books in the canon of world literature. It’s also being touted as marvelously Gothic fiction. Um. No. The writing is simplistic and cliched, and the plot overly gratuitous probably in an effort to shock and stand out and tick off a few political correctness boxes. The main character is weak, the other characters are pretty one dimensional, and the book is about 50 pages too long. I did enjoy the little inserts about the classical female figures and their fates at the hands of horrible men and gods, but even this was not enough to change my overall opinion of the book. A boarding school drama that left me, well, bored. Disappointing…

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