Madam – Phoebe Wynne (Quercus 2021)

Here is advance notification of a title scheduled to appear in February 2021,  a debut novel set largely in the early 1990s.  Twenty-six year old Classics teacher Rose is offered a job at a prestigious private girls’ school in coastal North East Scotland.  Caldonbrae is offering a Head of Department job and more money which will enable continued care for her mother in a residential home.  It doesn’t take Rose that long to realise the school is not all that it seems.

This modern Gothic tinged tale is good at establishing atmosphere especially at the beginning when Rose becomes aware that she is an outsider to events going on around her in a way which felt reminiscent of horror classic “Rosemary’s Baby”.  The school is keeping secrets from her and she is being manipulated by them but just how dark are these secrets? 

It takes the best part of a school year for Rose to fully cotton on to what is happening and this gives it the feel of a modern-day school-based slant on “Rebecca”.  Rose struggles to keep up normality, we find out much about the content of the curriculum and classic and mythological women are introduced to the students with Rose increasingly using these as teaching aids to help convey her concerns to the extraordinarily educationally passive girls.

I do think the book is a little too long, a little tweaking would have intensified the atmosphere, I think we linger a little too long in the classrooms and this slow build up isn’t quite justified by the final revelations and the working out of the plot’s climax.  Nevertheless, it is very readable and I enjoyed the feminist slant to the modern gothic novel.  It also has the potential to make a very good film/tv adaptation.

Madam is scheduled to be published by Quercus on 18th February 2021.

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