Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010 12:03 am by M. in , ,    4 comments
We are very grateful to HBG-International for sending us a review copy of this book.
Wuthering Bites
Author: Sarah Gray
Pub Date: August 31, 2010
Imprint : Kensington
'Is he a ghoul or a vampire?' I mused. I had read of such hideous incarnate demons. And then I set myself to reflect how I had tended him in infancy, and watched him grow to youth, and followed him almost through his whole course; and what absurd nonsense it was to yield to that sense of horror. 'But where did he come from, the little dark thing, harboured by a good man to his bane?' muttered. (Wuthering Heights, Chapter XXXIV)
Nelly Dean's explicit exposition of Heathcliff's vampiric trends in the final chapters of Emily Brontë's novel mark one of the many layers with which Emily Brontë wrapped Wuthering Heights. This one, bordering on the Gothic horror stories is not entirely inconsistent with the nature of a novel which, at times, seems closely associated to Romanticism (and, of course, John Polidori's novella The Vampire (1819) comes to mind(1)) and particularly the German Romantics, where the liebestod and the Vampiric tradition (explicit or not) were quite present(2).

In recent years there have been several explorations of the vampiric intertext in Wuthering Heights(3) which are contemporary of the vampire mass media invasion in which we are still immersed. From the pioneering New Romantic approach of John Badham's film Dracula (1979) (later maximised and given seal of critical approval by Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula 1992) to the recent boom of teenage drama with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series as its flagship, vampires have appealed to the inner fears and interests of audiences and considered a particularly effective way to convey discourses about integration, tolerance, growing up, violence ... you name it.

Mash-up novels could not be an exception and since the beginning of this recent 'golden age'(4) vampires have been used to subvert (or pervert) with more or less fortune the original texts. After the above introduction it seemed pretty obvious that Wuthering Heights could have been an ideal playground to reinterpret the story and put the vampire inside Heathcliff in the foreground. Regrettable as it is, Sarah Gray's garlic-packed Wuthering Bites is very far from being that novel.

Sarah Gray's(5) intentions in a way do not seem so far from it. She maintains the basic structure of the novel and the main events and characters are unchanged. She even manages to respect the most iconic dialogues and situations of Wuthering Heights which are attached to the collective memory. The novel nevertheless fails in the characters' delineation and in is tiresome in the description of the fantastic 'elements' which try to maintain a difficult equilibrium between the horrorful (for instance, the extraordinary scene which Nelly Dean sees from a window in Wuthering Heights in which Heathcliff is the protagonist which is a perfect example of what this novel could have been) and constant black humour (often gallows humour) which are in a way funny (in a silly way) but anticlimatic. But we will return to this later, as this reviewer is not quite sure about if this mixture is to his taste or not.

Sarah Gray's Wuthering Bites unavoidable problem, in its relation to Wuthering Heights, is that Emily Brontë's characters are beyond recognition. Heathcliff is the tortured fiend of the original novel, but that unexplainable fascination which Emily Brontë was able to integrate in her narrative is untraceable here. Maybe Sarah Gray explains too much about the reasons behind his behaviour (although the supposed late discovery has been anticipated so early that it lacks any kind of surprise element) or more possibly, Emily Brontë's narrative is not so easily replicated. Catherine is probably the character that survives the change more or less unaltered but Linton and Isabella are basically depthless characters and Hareton and Cathy are unrecognizable. The case of Lockwood deserves special attention as his evolution parallels in a way the distance between the paths taken by Wuthering Heights and Wuthering Bites. In a superficial fashion this Wuthering Bites Lockwood accomplished the same role that his counterpart in Wuthering Heights. He acts as a kind of distorted filter to Nelly Dean's narration and the story of Heathcliff and Catherine and behaves as a parody of the city's gentry in an escapade among the wild Yorkshire natives. But Sarah Gray's Lockwood is more exaggerated, erratic in his behaviour and concludes with a coda to the story which is the perfect metaphor of the way in which Wuthering Bites should be addressed, as a gigantic joke (whether funny or not is a matter of discussion) which is, nevertheless, neither consistently built nor coherent with the rest of the plot.

Nevertheless, this final joke brings us back to the question addressed above. Is the tone of the novel well-adjusted or is it its biggest mistake? This reviewer has to admit that he has not a definite answer. The first chapters read as if this novel was a Wuthering Heights horror retelling and the disappointment is notorious. But a few more chapters into it I realised that the problem was probably mine and I was not addressing Wuthering Bites in the correct way. Sarah Gray's novel is a literary exploit and it should be treated as such. The same way in which we don't judge, let's say Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead using the same parameters as a George A. Romero or a John Carpenter movie even when it covers the same subgenre. Exploitation is often synonymous with anarchy, silly nonsense and enormous quantities of fun. And Sarah Gray's novel is justly defined as an exploit of Wuthering Heights... more equivalent to a Joe D'Amato exploit than to a Lucio Fulci one though.

(1) It is plausible that the Brontës knew the novella as their interest for Lord Byron's works is well-known and for some time The Vampire was thought to be Byron's own work. Anyway it is a fact that the sisters were familiar with the term and the tales behind it as Charlotte Brontë also uses it when she describes Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre.
(2) For further information, see Allen, Maggie, Emily Brontë and the Influence of the German Romantic Poets, Brontë Studies, Vol. 30, March 2005 (and references therein)
(3) Nelson, Gillian, Vampiric Discourse in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Victorian Network, Issue 1, No1 (Summer 2009); Krishnan, Lakshmi, Why am I so changed? Vampiric Selves and Gothic Doubleness in Wuthering Heights, Journal of Dracula Studies, No 9 (2007); Stone, T.L., Is Heathcliff a Vampire?, The Kudzu Monthly, 1.4 (2001); Twitchell, James. Heathcliff as Vampire. Southern Humanities Review, 11:355-362 (1977).
(4) For an in-depth development of the mash-up phenomenon in relation to the Brontës, see our review of Jane Slayre.
(5) Sarah Gray is the pseudonym of Colleen Faulkner (aka Hunter Morgan, aka V.K. Forrest), prolific author of more than forty "historical romance, contemporary romance and suspense novels", according to her website. In her incarnation as V.K. Forrest she has published a vampire trilogy: Eternal, Undying and Inmortal.

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  1. I agree completely! I am so glad you reviewed this novel because I was anxious to see what you thought.

  2. Kaya Scodelario tweeted about being on the Yorkshire set of Wuthering Heights:

    "Have had one of the best days in months!Such a buzz being back on a set and doing what I love! But Yorkshire is feckin freezing mate!
    7:21 PM Oct 19th via Echofon"


  3. ah, this was bound to happen, sparkly vampires are all the rage.