Published: October 2012
Sourced: Proof copy
I’m not a big one for re-tellings of the classics. Mostly, they seem to run the range between cliché and blatant plagiarism with a rare few stand-outs. Wuthering Heights, in all its Gothic splendour, happens to be one of my favourite classics, so it was with a great deal of apprehension that I started Alison Croggon’s fantasy twist on this tale – and it wasn’t exactly a brilliant beginning. The format of this YA title is pretty much exactly the same as the original. Our narrator is the same arrogant, snobbish and frustrating figure, who then falls ill and is entertained by the maid and her shocking tale of the neighbours’ murky past. Sound familiar? The setting is apparently the same as the original, both in time and place, except for one thing: in this world, we have wizards and witches. And our Cathy figure, named Lina? Yeah, she’s a witch. And related to the royal family, and therefore rather fittingly a royal pain in the ass.
Basic storyline remains: Imperious, wilful Cathy’s life on the moors changes when her father brings home a gypsy boy (except, in this, Heathcliff is named Damek and is the bastard son of the king) for her to play with. Cue the beginning of an epic, intense and disturbingly co-dependent relationship in which both parties make it their mission to make each other’s lives – and those of everyone around them – utterly miserable. You know the story: Heathcliff/Damek leaves, Cathy/Lina marries the wrong guy, everyone is desperately unhappy and vicious with it, Lina dies and the cycle begins again with her daughter. For the sake of clarity (I assume) Croggon has eliminated a bunch of characters and simplified many others.
But this is where things get a little different. Croggon’s society is basically run by wizards and the weird and somewhat undefined relationship they have with the crown. They hate Lina, for reasons that are only vaguely sketched out as having something to do with her father’s choice of wife, thus Lina and her family don’t move to the north until she’s roughly ten. And the north is a land of strange, superstitious folk, with curious ways – such as the complicated law of vendetta. To summarise: basically, someone is murdered, and by law their murderer must be killed by a member of the victim’s family. This avenging figure is then taken out by one of their victim’s (the original murderer’s) family members, and so on and so forth until everyone is dead or grieving. The murderers also have to pay a Blood Tax for the privilege of killing and being killed, so everyone is actually dead, grieving or broke.
There are a whole bunch more complicated details to this bizarre rule – ones that, perhaps, if they had a whole novel devoted to them, could become an interesting premise that actually makes sense. As it is, this story reads like two tales crammed unsuccessfully into one: the demented love story of two damaged individuals; and a dark fantasy tale about a superstitious and strange community. It sticks too closely to the storyline of Wuthering Heights to be original, and the magical elements it seeks to add are just not well developed enough to bring anything new to the story. Lina’s powers are never fully explored and neither are the boundaries of magic in general. Somewhat impressively, Croggon has managed to indulge in several info-dumping passages (in part acceptable due to Anna’s narration, but still annoying) as well as failing to fully explain and develop the world she has created.
That’s the bad. Now for the good.
The relationships are pitch-perfect, and the ‘maid’ figure, known as Anna, has far more personality and air-time in this story than in Emily Bronte’s version. She also has nearly enough good qualities to redeem the rest of the morally bankrupt cast. I know, I know – they are meant to be terrible. I’m perfectly OK with that. If anything, Croggon’s Lina is stronger, smarter and blessed with a kinder soul than Bronte’s Cathy. Sure, she’s likely to throw a tantrum if she doesn’t get her way and her maternal instincts are dubious at best, but she also has a strong sense of her own worth and a fundamentally loving heart. For all the weaknesses in the plot, Croggon certainly captured the essence of the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff – sorry, Lina and Damek – in all its twisted glory. It does, however, lack the absolutely gut-wrenching impact of the original.
The problem with this isn’t that it is bad – it just isn’t good, either. Like the original, it is seductive, dark and slightly addictive. If you manage to get into this story, and do your best to forget the Wuthering Heights connection, it is a decent – if slightly weird and incomprehensible – Gothic fantasy with great characters. However, if you’re like me and think the Bronte sisters are just about the best thing to emerge from the desolate English moors, you might struggle to look past the bastardisation of the storyline and lack of inventive spin. While I’m not exactly highly recommending this, it is an interesting addition to the ever-widening field of classic adaptations and will appeal to a certain group of enthusiasts.
Read an excerpt here.
Cover love: It’s great, until you wake up in the middle of the night and catch a glimpse of those terrifying eyes watching you…