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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Upon A Midnight Dreary: A Review of Madam by Phoebe Wynne

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.

I have a doozy for you today. This book is a lot. If you’ve read today’s book then you already know what I’m talking about. For those of you who haven’t, get ready.

Please give a warm welcome to this week’s read: Madam by Phoebe Wynne!

Book cover of Madam by Phoebe Wynne.

I hope you’re ready to get into this cause there is a lot to cover this week. As always, a spoiler alert is in order. This is your one and only warning. Long term readers know I love to spoil the entirety of the books I read. I also must issue a content and trigger warning. Madam is a very dark read. This book deals with many forms of abuse, statutory rape, gaslighting, grooming, and suicide. There is no way to avoid any of these topics. If they are triggering to you in any way then I suggest avoiding this read. I also suggest skipping this review cause I don’t think I can avoid talking about these topics. With that, let’s get to the synopsis.

Bears waving.
If you're jumping ship, that's fine. I'll see you next week with something much, much, much more light-hearted.

Rose Christie has done it! She has become the first new hire in decades for the famous Caldonbrae Hall, a prestigious girls’ boarding school right off the coast in Scotland. Caldonbrae Hall is celebrated as a “beacon of excellence” where the young girls fortunate enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Woman clapping.
Claps for Rose! Great work at getting your fancy job!

Rose is an outsider. She knows Caldonbrae Hall by reputation only. She knows nothing of their upper crust ways or teachings. She’s in for quite the shock when she does arrive. The staff is cold towards her, the headmaster won’t even see her until her probationary period is over, the students don’t seem to care about their studies, and speaking of studies, Caldonbrae’s test scores boast some of the highest around but the students’ work doesn’t seem to match that… something fishy is going on and it’s not just test score related.

One student by the name of Bethany attaches herself to Rose very quickly. She says she needs help, that Rose’s predecessor Jane promised to help her, and the poor girl seems to be descending into madness. Rose does not understand anything Bethany is talking about thus leading Bethany to spread horrible rumors about Rose. Rose’s first semester is certainly not going well. Ultimately, Rose’s first year culminates in the death of a student, dark secrets slowly being revealed, skeletons in the closet, and a mystery going back generations and generations.


Madam is stellar! An atmospheric, deliciously gothic, feminist tale with a chilling mystery. I adore the fact the story is intercut with the stories of ancient women and how those stories resonate not only with Madam’s plot and characters but with the world today. Kinda sad when you think about it though. All the shit women put up with in ye old ancient times, all the shit that the characters of Madam deal with in the 1990’s, still happens today. If you hear a Pterodactyl screeching, it’s me in my feminist rage.

Let’s talk about our main character now. I love Rose. I think she’s such a strong character. Seriously, I think Phoebe Wynne did a phenomenal job creating the character of Rose. She is just an average woman, vastly intelligent but still your run of the mill adult woman, who is thrust into an impossible situation and forced to survive and save the day. While she’s ultimately able to overcome the situation, she’s broken down and beaten by the issue before she’s able to come out on top. There is absolutely nothing special about Rose, but that’s what makes her an amazing character. She’s your normal teacher trying to make a difference in the lives of her students. Ten-out-of-ten characterization.

J Lo clapping.
More claps! This time for Phoebe Wynne.

Now, if you’ve read last week’s review, you may remember me mentioning this book has Too Many Characters Syndrome. Madam suffers greatly from this issue. There is no differentiating between any of the characters. Every character is a woman with a very classic sounding name, the only difference between the characters are their ages. Took me roughly half the book before I figured out who was who. And this was only for a small handful of characters. Seriously, I think this book has like fifty characters. I know who five are. Maybe.

The Office
I am confusion!

It made reading the first part of Madam a chore. I didn’t know who people were and I was as in the dark about what was going on as much as the protagonist. Don’t get me wrong. I greatly enjoyed this book but it took me awhile to get in to. Things get better in part two, readers just need to stick it out.

The slow burn aspect of the novel doesn’t necessarily help with the above issue. Listen, Madam can only be a slow burn novel. It can only work if readers are kept in the dark just as much as Rose. But I do want to complain about the fact I had no idea what was going on in the first part of the book. There’s no explanation or answers for anything; which can be off putting. Once again, the novel feels like a bit of a chore.

I must say, this issue would likely right itself upon a reread. Madam lowkey calls for a reread directly after an initial read. The secrets readers learn about Caldonbrae Hall and its way of life help make sense of the events of part one before things are revealed. Things would most certainly be clearer during a reread. And I think I might do that. Madam is a great read and I want to pick up on everything that I missed during my initial read through.

I highly recommend this read. It’s dark, it’s feminist, it a slow burn; it’s great but I know it’s not for everyone. The first part can be a bit of a struggle. But if you think the story sounds interesting and this is in the same vein of books you tend to gravitate towards, then you’ll probably like it. Just remember the subject matter is pretty heavy and things are confusing at first, but if you think you’ll like Madam you probably will.

With that I must bid you all adieu. I shall see you all again next week with a new post. No review, but something you’ll all enjoy.

Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!


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