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?

Book Review: The Hunt for Pierre Jnr by David M Henley

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Book 1 of the Hunt for Pierre Jnr trilogy

Paperback, 416 pages
Published  by Harper Collins Australia

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

This sci-fi political thriller by debut novelist David Henley is an intelligent and enthralling read.

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr is set in a world that felt to me as though it could be scarily prophetic. Global warming has caused worldwide famine, and the resulting social upheaval has left what remains of the world’s population scattered across a few habitable hubs. The world has become a smaller place than ever, and humanity is connected by the Weave, a matrix-style interface of all human thought and knowledge. Democracy has reached its ultimate level; politicians are elected and dethroned at the whim of the Will, the general consensus of the entire populace at any given time. This raised some very interesting propositions regarding political maneuvering, and spotlighted the ever-present political question of doing what is right versus doing what is popular. (I also wondered why the world wasn’t run by the lead singer of the latest boy band, but I was prepared to let that slide.)

Enter the psis; an outcast group of mutant humans, who can read minds (tappers), move objects (benders), and in some cases, control other people’s thoughts and feelings. Normal humans, terrified of the psis’ potential power, have repressed them and contained them to islands. Think X-men without the parochial American setting.

Henley has developed a baddie who could arguably be the most ultimately unstoppable force I’ve ever encountered on the page. I just kept thinking, “how can you stop this kid?” Pierre Jnr is a psi of incalculable strength. Eight years old and lacking a moral compass to the point of sociopathic, Pierre Jnr can (and does) control people to do his every whim, make people believe he is not there, turn people’s brain to baby food, and flatten whole cities with a thought. (I thought maybe the protagonist should pop over to X-men and ask Magneto if he could borrow his silly hat, but since Pierre Jr could crush the hat with your brain in it, it probably wouldn’t be worth the trip.)

Like many sci-fi adventures, some character development is sacrificed for the sake of plot and exploration of the premise. Henley plays out the threat of Pierre Jr on a world stage, with all of the political ramifications and machinations that ensue. To that end, this was a complex read, with several POVs, lots of political manoeuvring, and cool futuristic technology.

I particularly enjoyed Henley’s use of a tapper (mind reader) as protagonist. Having a main POV character that can read minds was a very clever authorial device, allowing Henley to write in omniscient (describing other character’s emotions and thoughts) whilst still remaining in close third POV. A very clever trick, and one I’m squirrelling away.

I had been warned that The Hunt for Pierre Junior ended on a cliffhanger. I’m not a fan of the cliffhanger ending, and was glad that it wasn’t a cliffhanger as such – rather it ended with the gauntlet being thrown down, and bigger things looming on the horizon. I’ll take that challenge, Mr Henley, and am looking forward to continuation of the story in Manifestations.

A powerful novel, delving into ideas of acceptance, fear and mass consensus.

9/10 symbiotic dragons

9 dragons

 

About the Author

davidhenley

David Henley does a few things. Primarily he writes stuff and has ideas. He runs Seizure (www.seizureonline.com), works for Xoum (www.xoum.com.au) and does special contract and publishing jobs for the creative industries.

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr is his first major release, but has some quirky and obscure works in his shady past

 http://www.pierrejnr.com

 

About the Novel: The Hunt for Pierre Jnr  (Book 1 of the Pierre Jnr Trilogy)

He can make you forget, he can control you and he is only eight years old. Three months after his birth he escaped. An hour later he was lost to surveillance. No one knows where he has been for the last eight years … Now Pierre Jnr is about to return.

THE HUNT FOR PIERRE JNR follows the activities of an elite group dedicated to tracking down the eight-year-old boy who is currently the greatest threat humanity has ever known. It′s a pacy and gripping chase, and an impressive vision of our future.

Read the first 80 pages in this sampler.

‘A fantastic look at the idea of human prejudice and fear… He [David M Henley] has the potential to be another Peter F Hamilton or Daniel Suarez…’ – Fantasy Book Review

 

Get it here: 

ebook available from the iBookstore, Bookworld, Google Play and Amazon

paperback available from Booktopia and Bookworld

Book Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

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Book One of the Long Earth

336 pages

Published 2012 by HarperCollins

“Normally, when there was nothing to do, he listened to the silence”

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

This book was okay. Okay, in the sense of just okay. Okay, in the sense of, well, meh. It had its good points, but I often find with sci-fi, that if I have issues with the premise, then I just can’t enjoy the rest of the book, and I had issues with the premise, and the ponderous plot.

Imagine what would happen if you could step onto another world, another earth, devoid of people, untouched by pollution, with only a simple mechanism to help you. Now imagine what would happen if you could step to another earth, and another, and another. This is the premise of The Long Earth, that with nothing but a box and a potato you can step into an endless string of alternate realities. Or, if you know how, you can step with nothing at all.

My first big issue with the premise was the idea that populated cities would empty as people stepped away from civilization in their search for utopia. Pratchett and Baxter turned the Long Earth into a quasi-pioneering venture, where groups of people would dare the wilderness, and build something from nothing. Now, I’ve seen those shows where people have to live like pioneers and build their homes with olden days equipment and compost their own toilets and grow their own food. Frankly, it always looks to me like that kind of life pretty much sucks. Any hypothesis that most people would willingly give up the joys of modern life in exchange for the wilderness frankly underestimates the value of plumbing, tampons, microwaves, disposable nappies, takeaway food, a working health/government/law-and-order system, to name but a few of the simple luxuries modern life affords.

Anyhoo, that’s rant number one over. Now lets get to the story. Joshua Valiente, a natural stepper, is recruited by near-omniscient AI Lobsang, who claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. Together they plan to travel to the ends of the Long Earth, a journey that will take them through millions of worlds. Lobsang is a quirky character at first, but grew tiresome for me, and as they float through the worlds in a giant airship, there was a distinct feeling that the story was going nowhere as multiple stories of random characters follow in an episodic blur. Even the impending doom which the novel tries to build seemed too vague and, by the end, unrealised.

All in all this novel is an okay way to spend a few hours, but the humour lacks Terry Pratchett’s usual deft touch, and the plot was not compelling enough to make me want to pick up the second book in the series.

6 different dragons, that all kinda look the same….

6 dragons

Book Review: The Barrow by Mark Smylie

Barrow

Paperback, 613 pages
Published  2014 by Pyr

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

There’s more than a hint of the graphic novel that inspired it in this vividly depicted and beautifully detailed debut. Combining dark elements, action, sex, magic and violence The Barrow instantly engages, dragging the reader deep into the earth in search of a map that promises to lead our heroes to Gladringer, a priceless sword. To that end, the storyline is at its heart fairly simplistic. Follow the map, get the prize and the untold riches it will bring.

The characters are beautifully grey; Stjepan Blackheart, the shrewd scoundrel and undisputed leader; Erim, a girl who behaves like a boy (in more ways than just fighting); Gilgwyr, the lascivious brothel owner and Harvald, a lordling not afraid to break the rules. Add to this a cast of cut-throats and low-lives, and up-tight aristocracy.

And now to the sex, and boy is there a lot of it, and not just the regular fare. Nothing is left off the table– incest, bestiality, prostitution, adultery, violent sex, and homoeroticism – Smylie fills the pages with shocking scenes that push the boundaries of acceptability. At times I found it too much, particularly the chapter early on in which [*warning: this next part of my review uses graphic language] Gilgwyr relates to the reader the enjoyment of having his ‘cock freshly sucked’ (a phrase which made me cringe harder, every time it was repeated) by a male priest looking to procure a prostitute to perform sexual rites with a bull. He is turned on by the thought of watching said prostitute be literally screwed to death. He then goes on to relate to the audience the sexual prowess of the different races of The Known World in what amounts to a geographical sex tour. If you can get past that scene, you’ve a good idea what you’re in for for the rest of the novel.

Structurally, this novel is ultimately a journey bookended by two dungeon raids. The barrow raids were far and away the best part of this novel; exciting, fast paced, nail-biting, terrifying at times and brutal with quick POV changes and tons of action. I read the final barrow raid in a rush, and from a hundred pages to the end the book is completely unputdownable.

Overall, intense and vivid, an enjoyable read, but too uncomfortable for me, and without a main character that I felt closely enough connected to.

7 lascivious dragons

7 dragons

Book Review: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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Book 1# of the Farseer Trilogy
480 pages
Published 1996 by Voyager

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

For a seasoned fantasy reader, this is the kind of story that folds around you like a big, warm, familiar fantasy blanket. It’s 90’s fantasy – the stuff I grew up on – and I enjoyed reading something older, that wasn’t mired in the gritty fantasy-realism that seems to be the current rage.

All the tropes are there; a young bastard prince whose life is in peril manifests a dangerous and powerful skill, a mysterious mentor, magic in the form of Skill and Wit, political machinations and personal vendettas, all set to the backdrop of a world in imminent danger of invasion.

Hobb tells a splendid tale – Fitz is likeable and sympathetic, and she holds back nothing on the treacherous path he takes to become an assassin. The story is well-woven and well told, precise and beautiful. This is everything you could want in a traditional epic fantasy tale.

10 out of 10 stealthy dragons

10 dragons

Book Review: Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

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Paperback, 512 pages
Published 2010 by HarperVoyager

“She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled … He was also completely off his face.”

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

I love being in love with the last book I read. Don’t you?

And boy, do I LOVE Power and Majesty right now. This award winning novel by renowned Australian fantasy writer Tansy Rayner Roberts was an utterly enjoyable ride.

Power and Majesty is described as ‘dark fantasy’ and I found it a refreshing change from my regular epic fantasy fare. Not only does Rayner Roberts borrow from language and culture to imbue Power and Majesty with a very Ancient Roman flavour (a time period I absolutely adore BTW), she also manages to develop a very original fantasy world, with enough plot-twists and grey characters to keep even seasoned fantasy readers guessing.

Little do the daylight people of Aufleur know that a battle rages every evening right above their heads, a battle between the Sky and the Creature Court (a group of infighting shape-shifters who used to be human), a battle which must be won at all costs, or the city of Aufleur will be destroyed. The novel follows the story of Velody, a young girl who has come to the big city in the hopes of beginning a trade. But Velody is no ordinary girl. She sees the battle in the sky, and soon enough will need to take her place in the Creature Court.

The Creature Court blends the best of Roman history and culture. It combines the strength and majesty of the unseen and often warring Gods of Olympus, with the decadence and viciousness of Rome in the time of the early Caesars. The result is a dangerous, exotic, sensual world, and Velody, a female protagonist up to the challenge (just the way I like them!), must face enemies at every turn.

Don’t let the cover put you off. If you are a fantasy fan, then this is a book you have to read. I got to the last page of this book, and the first thing I did was hop on Booktopia and order Book 2, The Shattered City (which, at the time of writing, was selling for a ridiculously cheap price). Amazing, must-read fantasy. Put this at the top of your to-read pile.

I give this book 10/10 Sky-Battling Dragons

10 dragons

 

Book Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

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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