Io sono Heathcliff
The success and rapid growth of the YA literature genre is by no means an exclusive English narrative phenomenon. The expansion, through the consolidation of fan fiction as a successful literary enterprise, of any class of romance narrative is also a global case of study. The Mediterranean countries and, particularly, Italy have a long tradition of romantic novelettes with nothing to envy to Mills & Boon and derivatives: the romanzo rosa (Harlequin, for instance) or the fotoromanzo collections which are the immediate forebears of the emergence of authors like Susanna Tamaro in the nineties.
When this romantic popular tradition has converged with teenage angst and has been spiced up with the Italian ineffable idiosyncracy, the results have been notoriously successful: Antonio Baricco, Paolo Giordano, Melissa Panarello and, of course, the most successful and in a way influential of all them, Federico Moccia. His novels full of clichés and flat characterisations have, nevertheless, conquered the hearts of thousands of young readers who have recognised in the stereotypes created by Moccia the aspirations or idealisations which are always appealing to teenagers since the modern world invented that age category that we call adolescence.
Io Sono Heathcliff by Desy Giuffrè has to be understood in this context. The YA Italian market which serves as a common ground for many of the facts that the author narrates (the Rome settings, the rich-girl vs dangerous-lumpen guy, the couple in a motocycle traversing Rome... which transparently recall similar scenes in Moccia's Trei Metri Sopra il Cielo) marks also the frontieres and walls which limit the novel(1). In other words, is Wuthering Heights a novel so globally appropriated by young women (target readers of this genre) that Italian teenagers can be interested in a sequel of sorts? Because, although the novel can be read without any knowledge of Emily Brontë's novel (and in fact, can be described easily as a paranormal teen romance), it is obvious that the Wuthering Heights references try not only to be a nod to aficionados but are designed to be essential to the narrative.
The success of the author depends on the expectations of the reader. The adult Wuthering Heights lover will read the novel with the interest of recognising the familiar parallels with Emily Brontë's novel (Cathy finds a contemporary equivalent in Emma and Heathcliff in Damien) but will be deceived by the absence of real drama and the domestication of both Cathy and Heathcliff. Except for some given moments, their time as spirits seems to have tempered their characters. The experienced reader who knows his noirs (movies or novels) will not miss the maddened criminal capo and the femme fatale (with the unavoidable redemption by love and death).
But such a reader is not the reader for which Io Sono Heathcliff has been written. The (female) adolescent will find some attractive characters which will be easily recognisable because they form the common substrata of the novels, films, TV and music that define her cultural landscape. This kind of reader will be more tolerant of the numerous disparities between the plot and how it is narrated and probably will not notice the absurd introduction into the story of the original Emily Brontë novel. It was not necessary and it doesn't work(2).
The prose of Desy Giuffrè is contained but fluent, with a variety of lexic not always found in similar novels. Sometimes in the verge of being too corny (but the kind of corny you will find in the agenda of any average teenager), but sometimes too with the right tone of poetic voice, the one that we like to think is the author's true voice:
Il silenzio può essere estremamente rumoroso. Il proprio respiro e quello delle persone che ci stanno accanto, il richiamo di qualque volatile notturno fuori dalla finestra; e ancora il suono di una goccia d'acqua che cade dal rubineeto, o lo scricchiolio di un vecchio mobile. Uno sbadiglio, il delicato fruscio di fogli che vengono carezzati, il morbido fluire dell'inchiostro di una penna sulla carta.These kind of moments and the absolute sincerity and passion of the author for both Emily Brontë's novel and her characters, which is evident and pristine in all the pages of the novel are the main reasons that save the day after reading Io Sono Heathcliff. It's not a small thing in this day and age in which novels (and in particular young adult ones) seem to be written by a cut-and-paste machine with no other interest than sketching out interchangeable saleable artefacts which populate the bestseller shelves of the libraries. Desy Giuffrè's novel may be naïve and predictable, but it's honest and true. No small feat, indeed.
(1) In a way, as other contemporary Italian popular novels, the characters transmit the difference of classes in Italian society. In a few years these novels will be studied looking at how the Italian society mirrored themselves: the class differences, the Berlusconism which not mentioned but can be detected in some of the behaviour of the main characters, etc...
(2) Another problem arises in the language. Both Heathcliff and Cathy speak in Italian with the principal characters. Even in the England episodes the characters seem to address all the local characters in Italian. This kind of convention is accepted by tradition in film and TV but in a book is a too excessive suspension of disbelief.