Thursday, August 04, 2011

Wuthering Hearts - A Review

We are very grateful to Anderson Press for sending us an ARC of this book

Wuthering Hearts
Kay Woodward
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Andersen (7 July 2011)
ISBN-10: 1849392994
ISBN-13: 978-1849392990
The cultural dissemination, in the words of Patsy Stoneman(1), of Wuthering Heights is full of misleading paths. The novel has been approppriated by many people misreading or partially reading some aspects of the book. It's still amazing how Emily Brontë's only novel is recognised by a lot of people as the embodiment of romanticism, a sort of predecessor of a Mills & Boon romance or, even more incredibly, as the mother of chicklit. The extent of this distorted vision of the book is so vast, so rooted in the Western canon that it is regularly listed as a YA (particularly female) oriented novel. And certainly the first generation of Wuthering Heights is, among many other things, a teenage love story, but the second half of the book turns into the darker sides of  the amour fou, including revenge, obsession and cruelty.

It is no wonder then, that when Kay Woodward chose Wuthering Heights as a reference for her second YA novel, Wuthering Hearts, after the successful and lovely Jane Airhead, she limited her references and plot connections to the story of Heathcliff and Catherine(2). As with its predecessor, which paid a tribute to Jane Eyre, Kay Woodward doesn't try to adapt or retell the original novel, but uses it instead as a common intertext which brings the story together.

There are explicit references to Emily Brontë's story in the theatre play which is the backbone of Wuthering Hearts where Emily, the main character, plays Nelly and Robert (her love interest) plays Heathcliff. But there are plenty of other moments borrowed from Wuthering Heights that intersect with the narrative sometimes like important elements of the story and others like mere nods to the aficionado: how Robert goes to live in Emily's house invited by Emily's father is a mirror of Heathcliff's entering the Earnshaw's house (we even have Emily's sister Jenna playing the part of a young Hindley calling Robert "the Usurper"(3)); there is a funny scene based on the known passage of the visit of Cathy's ghost at the beginning of Wuthering Heights or even an equivalent of Penistone Crags, etc.(4)

A special mention is deserved by the chapter where all the main characters visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum. We can still remember the first time we were there and sympathise with Emily's reactions, it's a nice episode with the right dose of drama, humour and... a final surprise.

Kay Woodward's witty, humorous and never patronising prose in still in full swing, as it was in Jane Airhead. The general atmosphere is slightly darker(5) in order to match the referenced novel, but there is a common ground and a similar sense of humour in the relation between the protagonist (here Emily, there Charlotte, an obvious nod to the authors of the original novels) and her best friend (Maia/Manda). A single-parent family with no visible traumas(6) and a great aunt (both grandparents in Jane Airhead) with the extra dose of that most British of things: eccentricity, which in the present novel turns Auntie O in a sort of Brontë oracle.

As in her previous novel the (female) teenage life is nicely described introducing some contemporary (and unmissable elements) like social networks, texting, Skype, etc...(7) They are not central to the story but provide a background and credibility. Robert's obsession with BMX may not be the most common of teenage hobbies but it is handy to give air to the novel and room to explore the moors under wuthering weather, one of the best chapters of the book.

In the end, the novel is more balanced and atuned than its predecessor but, maybe because Wuthering Heights is a complicated source to extract feel-good material from or maybe because Jane Airhead's rough edges had the virtue of being original and fresh, we enjoyed more Charlotte's adventures than Emily's. But we are pretty sure that the target audience of this novel, 12+ (mostly female) young readers, will empathise with Emily's struggles to find her place in high school and in the heart of that broody, slightly Byronic, mysterious, dangerous but gentle Heathcliff (the mainstream one, not the killer of puppies and women abuser) Robert McBride. Who could resist it?

Notes
(1) Brontë Transformations: The Cultural Dissemination of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Patsy Stoneman, (London: Prentice Hall, 1996)
(2) BEWARE OF SPOILER. Although a reference to Hareton's illetracy can also be found among the main topics and motivations of the Robert McBride character.
(3) Wuthering Heights, Chapter IV:
So, from the very beginning, he bred bad feeling in the house; and at Mrs. Earnshaw's death, which happened in less than two years after, the young master had learned to regard his father as an oppressor rather than a friend, and Heathcliff as a usurper of his parent's affections and his privileges; and he grew bitter with brooding over these injuries.
It should be added that here the tone is light and even humorous. Nothing to do with the destructive and poisonous atmosphere of the original.
(4) We don't know if the name of Lennox Allinton (the arch-enemy of Emily) is a wink to the Lintons or merely a coincidence.
(5) The tone reaches the cover illustration by Jessie Eckel, who also designed Jane Airhead, which integrates some tombs and lonely trees in a pattern very similar to the cover of the previous novel.
(6) Although here the father is more absent than Charlotte's mother. Nevertheless, this route is not taken by the author and the gentle neglectfulness of Emily's father is treated like a minor topic.
(7) Not to forget references to the Twilight saga, of course.

Categories: , , Wuthering Heights

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