Reviewing the Classics: Wuthering Heighs by Emily Bronte revisited

wuthering heights

Hi all,

So I went to a live taping a couple of weeks back of a show called The Book Club. It was a great show – Paul Kelly sang a sonnet, and there was much discussion about a little book you might have heard of called Wuthering Heights. The discussion got heated, especially when it came to Heathcliff. For a full recap of how things went down, I’d definitely recommend stopping by Right or Wrong for a very funny, and entirely scientific analysis of the show here.

In the spirit of the debate, and since I haven’t read Wuthering Heights since I skimmed it in second-year university (nearly 20 years ago) I gave it a slightly less skimmed re-read, and what follows is my review:

This classic tale, set on the northern moors of England, has long been acclaimed as a both a torrid tale of passionate love and revenge, and a masterpiece of English literature. The main protagonist, Heathcliff, is considered by many to be one of the most smoking-hot villains to ever grace the page. A large part of it is probably because of his depictions in film looking like this:

Heathcliff1

And this:

ralphheathcliff

And more recently this:

tomhardy

Ahh Ralph Fiennes…

Yes, they are all very attractive men. But let’s move on shall we? Back to the book.. ahem. I have to say on my rereading of the novel (handsome men above aside), I really struggled to find any attraction to the dark, brooding, taciturn man who essentially tortures and ruins his family.

While the writing of Emily Bronte’s only novel still holds its haunting beauty, and Bronte’s descriptions of the moors are so evocative that one feels as though they are standing upon them, what really stood out to me about this novel on a reread of this book are two things:

  1. The utterly restrictive social status of women during the Regency/Victorian age. As women of any standing (and Catherine, I believe, is landed gentry) were not permitted to work, were given very little education and could often not inherit, a woman’s standing and her future were entirely dictated by an agreeable marriage.
  2. The alarmingly violent intergenerational cycle of physical and emotional abuse (particularly of women, servants, and children) perpetuated by all the protagonists throughout the novel. Heathcliff is a wife beater. Hindley throws his own child over a railing in a fit of drunken rage and shoves a knife between his servant’s teeth. Hindley’s child grows up to be a violent adult. Even more telling, these brutal acts were not dwelt upon by the narrator but accepted as a matter of course.

So, in revisiting this novel, I feel that my age and a modern lense have served to lessen its appeal. As far as Heathcliff goes, I found him thoroughly unlikeable; grumpy, physically and verbally violent, grudge-holding, vengeful and spiteful, and worse – completely unrepentant (except perhaps where his Cathy is concerned). There’s a term in modern romance called: the’Alphahole’ – an Alpha character who is so utterly Alpha, that he is actually a massive jerk. It does seem that Heathcliff appeals to younger women – perhaps he could be considered the pioneer of the YA ‘Hero.’

But what do you think – does Heathcliff still set a fire in your loins?

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May Review Raves: Soulless by Gail Carriger and Mythmaker by Marianne De Pierres

I’ve got two books to add to your must-read pile this month (if you haven’t read them already). Both on these books sit on the fringes of the fantasy genre. Both are utterly fabulous and worth an immediate read. First up:

Mythmaker by Marianne De Pierres

mythmaker

Genre: Urban Fantasy / Sci-fi / Western

Details: 320 pages, published 2015 by Angry Robot

Blurb: Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets… untidy.

My Review: Virgin Jackson is back in the second instalment of Marianne De Pierres’ Peacemaker series. This one’s just as action packed as the first, as gun-toting ranger, Virgin, aided by the taciturn US cowboy Nate Sixkiller, her spirit animal and her possibly psychotic self-appointed bodyguard, Hamish, set out to discover the truth about the Mythos. She’s got a mystery to solve and her name to clear, and a bounty and a murder rap both hang over her head. Beautifully written and tightly paced, De Pierres’ novel takes us from wild, open spaces to cramped city slums and back again. Urban Fantasy meets sci-fi, meets western, this is a book that will grip you from start to finish. Yee-haa!

Grab it here (Amazon) or support local Australian bookshops, and grab it here (Booktopia)

You can read a stellar review of its predecessor, Peacemaker here.

 

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Print

Print

Genre: Paranormal Historical Romance

Details: 373 pages, published 2009 by Orbit

Book blurb: Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. 

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. 

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

My Review:  A blend of Victorian, steampunk, regency comedy of costume, romance, horror, paranormal (werewolves and vampires) – Soulless is a librarian’s worst nightmare when it comes to deciding on a shelf to put it on. The storyline and concept, however, are both absolute crackers, and if you haven’t read this book (and I know I came to this party late) you really ought to!

Alexia Tarabotti is an outspoken, self-professed Victorian spinster who carries a cane just to beat up potential attackers. She’s attacked by a rogue vampire, who discovers (much to his dismay) that he’s messed with the wrong girl. Alexia has plenty of tricks up her sleeve (not the least of which is her Soulless ability which neutralises supernatural power)

Enamoured by the gruff, yet dangerously attractive Lord Maccon (who also happens to be a werewolf), Alexia must survive assassination and kidnapping attempts, her attraction to Lord Maccon (unsuccessfully), and her best friend’s terrible choice in hats. Written in a delicious Jane Austen style, there is enough absurdity in this book to make you laugh, and enough mystery to keep you turning the pages well into the night. Can you tell I’m Miss Carriger’s new number 1 fan?

Grab this book here.

Book Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

daughteroftheforest

Book One of the Sevenwaters Triology
538 pages
Published 2000 by Pan Macmillan

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

For me, the best gauge of a fantastic novel is my inability to put it down. That was my experience with Daughter of the Forest. This beautiful and haunting story was an absolute delight to read.

The story follows the plot of the Grimm fairytale ‘Six Swans’, but is set in a mysterious Celtic world. The style of Marillier’s writing reminded me a little of Mary Stewarts Arthurian Legend series, for its beauty and natural setting.

Daughter of the Forest recounts the tale of Sorcha, a young girl whose six brothers are cursed by an evil witch and turned into swans. Sorcha learns that the only way for her to break the curse is to weave six shirts of starwort, one for each of her brothers. If she tries to tell her story, or even utter a sound, her brothers will remain swans forever.

As you can imagine, the tale itself is one of suffering and endurance. And then there is the rape scene. I am glad I knew about it beforehand, and I can see why this scene has received much discussion. It comes at the centre of the book, when we are well invested in Sorcha, and is shocking for both its brutality and senselessness. It colours the rest of the story, and changes Sorcha’s character, adding an extra burden for her to overcome.

This is a truly amazing tale of love and loss and sacrifice and I am looking forward to the sequel.

10/10 Silent Dragons
10 dragons

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling

casualvacancy
505 pages
Published 2012 by Little, Brown and Company

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

What, you may ask, is a review of J K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy doing on a site that revels in all things Fantasy? You do know it’s not a Harry Potter book, right?

Yes, I do. And I did before I read the book too.

In fact, I was surprised how many Goodreads reviews expressed their disappointment that The Casual Vacancy did not have Harry Potter in it. This is nothing like Harry Potter. It is adult fiction. It is not fantasy. And I read The Casual Vacancy knowing this.

So what was my reasoning? I’ve got this theory about us genre writers. I think that we are a different breed, that the skills we have are particular to us. Genre writers, and most especially fantasy writers, build amazing worlds and transport readers there. It’s about getting across the most fantastical ideas, explaining the inexplicable, filling the reader’s head with vivid images of things they have never seen. To do this, you need to use words well, and simply. Words for the fantasy writer are like a soundtrack to your favorite movie; they build the mood, they convey the emotion, but if you notice the words or the music it’s probably because it’s not very well done. It’s the reason were not considered ‘literary’. It’s the reason Stephen King moaned that no-one ever asks him about the language of his novels.

What does this have to do with The Casual Vacancy? My theory before reading is that Rowling is a genre writer through-and-through. And after reading, I feel that I can firmly say that she is.

The plot of The Casual Vacancy follows the lives of the local inhabitants of a small English town, and the undercurrents, pettiness and tensions which ensue after the death of a councilman. Rowling gets us achingly close to the characters, not just inside their heads, but with every flaw and foible exposed for us to see and snigger at.

The themes are ones Rowling would be familiar with. I wonder how much of the junkie mother was depicted from her own experiences of living in council flats. Rowling has mentioned her distress at accepting dole payments as a single mother and throws a mirror on this prejudiced middle-class upbringing in her novel. There are times when this book is shocking, violent and offensive. Rowling writes about the other side of teen life, the one Harry Potter never mentioned – the side with acne, drugs, hormones, sex and rebellion.

Ultimately, though, J K Rowling lacks the subtly of non-genre authors. Her characters become caricatures, the shocking language becomes annoying, the plot gets dragged down with endless inner musings. At times her writing seems clumsy, tripping over heads as she jumps perspectives with wild abandon. It is competent, but not exciting, not spectacular. It all leads me to wonder if this book would stand on its own merits without the name of one of the world’s most famous authors emblazoned on its cover. I think it probably would have been published and then sunk into the literary ocean without so much as a ripple.

Stick to genre fiction, JK. Go back to your roots.

Please, please, please.

6 out of 10 musing dragons
6 dragons

Book Review: Hades Daughter by Sara Douglass

hadesdaughter
The Troy Game: Book 1
Paperback, 746 pages
Published February 2004 by Voyager

Greeting’s Brave Adventurers.

I’m going to come right out and say it; I really enjoyed this book.

I’m not quite sure why – I’ve always considered myself a very character-driven reader, and I found every single one of the characters in this book utterly unappealing, to the point where about half way through I remember remarking that I had no idea who I was supposed to be cheering for. Yet still, this story gripped me, and I had to read on.

Hades’ Daughter combines elements of ancient roman mythology and pagan ritual into a compelling fantasy world. It is a world of lust, sex, violence (and violent sex), jealousy, ambition and power.

Douglass has been criticized for over-zealous depictions of sex and depravity in her novels, but I didn’t find this to be so. Douglass is a female-centric writer, and I think it is hard to imagine a female protagonist in a medieval setting who does not confront ‘sex-as-weapon’ – either used against her or wielded by her for advantage. I enjoyed the backdrop of the feminine world that this book so richly invokes; the roles of woman as mother and lover, and the concepts of fertility, birth and rebirth.

As I have said, the characters in this book are seriously flawed, yet fascinating all the same; Cornelia is desperately needy to the point of melodrama, Brutus as his name implies is heartless and brutal, Ariadne’s power-hungry desire for revenge and her cold jealousy makes her entirely unlikeable. And behind it all, lurks the greatest evil, the Minotaur who once inhabited the heart of the ancient Labyrinth, and aims to destroy all their plans.

A great start to a series, and, in my opinion, Sara Douglass’s best.

9/10 labyrinthine dragons
9 dragons

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

onwriting

297 pages

Published 2002 by Pocket Books

 

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

This book by prolific author Stephen King is part biography and part writing handbook, and should most definitely be on the ‘must read’ list of any aspiring fiction author.

I’m going to start my review at the end, for I finished this book feeling strangely uplifted and positive about my writing. Perhaps it was King’s assertion that there is no simple ‘pill’ to making a selling writer. His advice is that a writer is made from hard work, a touch of luck and a certain amount of natural ability.

King’s advice is straightforward and simple, and is guaranteed to make your writing instantly better; edit hard, write every day, read, get rid of adverbs and unnecessary attributions and stop watching TV (which I think is great advice for everyone). The way he explains the act of writing and reading was a real ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. Not all his advice I agreed with; I continue to plot to some extent, finding his ‘pantser’ method leads to too much rambling.

The advice King gives is sandwiched between biographical recounts of his childhood and younger years, and a terrible car-crash he had in 2000, which nearly killed him. King knows how to spin a tale, for the glimpse into his youth was fascinating, and I had a huge smile on my face when he narrated his ‘big break’ with Carrie, after a life of financial hardship. In contrast, the recount of his car crash and the resulting injuries was a terrible moment in Stephen King’s life, one that he is lucky to have survived.

If you have not read this book, I highly suggest that you do.
10/10 masterful dragons

10 dragons

 

Book Review: Salvage by Jason Nahrung

salvagecover

Paperback, 180 pages
Published 2012 by Twelfth Planet Press

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

“I haven’t read much horror, but I’ll definitely have to read your stuff,” I gushed when I met Jason Nahrung at the Aurealis Awards in Sydney, early in 2013. Jason had two novels in the final for “Best Horror Novel 2012”; Salvage and Blood and Dust.

As I began to read Salvage, I realized that I had a short memory; flashbacks to a misspent youth reading Stephen King began to surface. There’s this particular skill that seems to be the domain of horror writers, a way that they can build a seemingly ‘normal’ world, yet still manage to leave the reader’s stomach churning uncomfortably, knowing that something dark lurks in the shadows, awaiting the unsuspecting protagonist, just a few pages on. Nahrung has this gift.

The novella follows Melanie, as she and her husband Richard retreat to an isolated Queensland island. Their marriage is foundering, caused by the loss of their unborn child and Richard’s inability to prioritise Melanie over his work. When Melanie meets Helena she is drawn in to her sensual world, only to find that Helena is escaping her own dark past.

Any novel that deals with vampires will, unfortunately, be compared to a certain teen phenomenon. Nahrung’s vampires are an older breed, harking back to the sexual sensuality of Bram Stoker, where lust and attraction are not simply based on a six-pack and a GQ magazine stature. There is sex and there is violence in this novella, there is bleakness and blood.

Nahrung’s beautiful depiction of the Australian seaside, bled of all colour, is a deliciously gothic backdrop to a story that ended all too soon. Not because it was too short, but just because I wanted more. Darn, Jason. Now I’m going to have to add another dozen books of this genre to my already tottering ‘to read’ pile, Blood and Dust at the top.

9 out of 10 brooding dragons

9 dragons

Do check out Jason Nahrung’s blog here.