Monthly Archives: December 2013

Review: Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights

 

3/5 – Spoilers

 

There are a few books, which – though I’ve never read – I have an idea of what they are about. Wuthering Heights was one of those.
 

I thought, from what I’d picked up through cultural osmosis, that it was a love story between moody Heathcliff and wild Cathy, set on an English moor. I thought there would be windswept vistas and empty moors, lovers kept apart by fate or society.
 

But no…no…that’s pretty much not what happens.
 

For a start, Cathy dies halfway through and the story only touches on her violent relationship with Heathcliff…and she ends up marrying another man. So much for loving him then.
Their relationship can by no means be called “love” and is more like passive-aggressive hostility. It doesn’t seem as much as though they care for each other as drive each other to insane anger.
 

Heathcliff is less moody and more downright psychotic; he’s mean, spiteful and bitter, perhaps for the sake of it. But he justifies this by saying he ‘loved’ Cathy and resents anyone else taking her. Stalker, anyone?
 

So the story is less about Heathcliff and Cathy, and more about Heathcliff’s desire for revenge and retribution. He treats everyone around him as a kicking stool, and doesn’t hold back from assaulting them whenever the mood takes him. He abuses his nephew, he abuses Cathy’s daughter (also confusingly called Cathy – she marries Linton, which is the last name the other main family in this story. I had to keep a family tree to keep them straight for a while). The man is an absolute raving lunatic, and he should have been locked up.
 
The fact no one seems to have the nerve to stand up to him is startling. Not one member of his family reported him for cruelty or malice – perhaps it was a sign of the times that families kept themselves to themselves, but most of the characters seem almost as unbalanced. At one point, someone threatens to cut out someone’s tongue; they bite down on the knife and dare them to.
 

This isn’t a love story. Heathcliff isn’t a man you’d want marrying your daughter, any more than Cathy is a woman you’d want marrying your son.
 

The setting of the book was a surprise as well. I was, as I said, expecting windswept moors, but most of the action takes place indoors. In places this made it seem like a play, with simple, interchangeable sets as backdrops.
 

The structure of the story is interesting as well. Mostly, a servant relates the tale through her third-person lens, recalled from twenty years before (with perfect recall, apparently).
Another reviewer said the third-person narrative hadn’t been developed when this was written, and sometimes the servant’s story is further filtered through a conversation she had with someone else; there are hints that she might be an unreliable narrator, in her descriptions of the two Cathy’s.
 

The hardest part of the book to read was Joseph – wow, his accent is thick. I asked a friend from Yorkshire (where the book is set) to read a bit of his dialogue out, and he couldn’t figure it out either. There were a few plot holes – at the end, a shepherd boy says he’s seen the ghost of Heathcliff and Cathy (One) on the moor. At that point, Cathy One has been dead twenty years; but that’s a minor point.
 

Did I enjoy this book, even though it wasn’t what I expected? I did, although the main characters weren’t nice people and nobody I would want to spend any time with again.

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Rambles: Books of 2013

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There’s a link on Goodreads today for the books I’ve read in 2013, and I thought I’d go over some of the highlights – and lowlights.

 

It surprises me there are only 25 of them this year (Of Mice and Men is missing for some reason) I thought I read faster than that! Although considering thats a book every two weeks, it’s not bad.

 

Some of them are quite thick – Dombey and Son I think was the longest, whereas Of Mice and Men only took me a weekend for its 120 pages.

 

The cover that really jumps out at me from the selection is The Rainbow Makers Tale – the plain white background and multicoloured eye stand out really well in a crowd (Good work, Mel! )

It seems the year was dominated by my seven re-reads of John Marsden; It was a delight to be taken into his world again.

 

Pleasant surprises from books I picked up on a whim….I enjoyed Tethers by Jack Croxall, a pleasing, old-fashioned tale, and Ender’s Game was excellent until it suddenly ran out of steam. Mice was a great story as well. I really enjoyed the Fifth Wave – a great premise, as was Breathe.

I’ve never read any Cassandra Clare before, and A Clockwork Angel had a great sense of location, although there was far too much exposition going on and not enough story.

The Night she Disappeared was a nice racing tale, although my review says the ending was rushed and I only gave it two stars.

 

I’d read Dennis Lehane before (Shutter Island) and I thought I’d give another of his stories a try – Mystic River. It’s telling I don’t remember much about it now, but I gave it three stars when I reviewed it and praised its solid sense of place and characters.

 

Biggest disappointments were the James Dashner books – The Death Cure, The Kill Order and The Scorch Trials. There were a lot of wasted ideas there and a story that ended up spinning into nothing. The strongest was the prequel, The Kill Order.

And don’t get me started on Steinbeck! The Grapes of Wrath just ended and Of Mice and Men was two-dimensional. Never again will I pick up a Steinbeck!

 

There’s only one non-fiction in there – 33 Men, the story of the miners trapped in Chile. Great story, but the author does tend to repeat himself.

 

Classics this year seem a little thin on the ground – I got bogged down with the ponderous Dombey and Son. Little Women was weak, but the included sequel (Little Wives) was great. My favourite classic this year was a short story from Dickens in The Christmas Tales – A Cricket on the Hearth.

 

An uneven year then, I think. I picked up some slow and heavy going classics, but also picked up some good books on a whim, and I’m sure I’ll be looking for stories by the authors next year.

Review: The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

2/5

In the dustbowl depression of 1930s America, the Joad family from Oklahoma move to California out of desperation, lured by the promise of a mythical land of endless food and well paid work that doesn’t exist.

 

For the first half of this book, I loved it. Steinbeck alternates each chapter between the Joads and a bigger picture of half the country on the move, hungry for work and hungrier for food. The travels along Route 66 were full of drama and tension and the characters well developed. It was a delight to travel along with them, poor and desperate as they were, dignified in their poverty, hoping as they did that they would find what they were looking for…but knowing that they wouldn’t, hoping at least for some resolution for them. Some of the writing was beautifully poetic, especially in the wider-world chapters.

 

It was when they arrived in California that the story crumbled and stalled. There were long passages that went like this:

 

Tom pushed open the matchbox and took out a match. He struck the match against a piece of sandpaper and took the flame carefully to the lantern, and lit the lantern with the fragile yellow dancing flame. The lantern lit with a mellow dancing light against the walls of the shack. Tom sat back and warmed his hands on the feeble heat coming from the lantern.

 

How about we try this, Mr Steinbeck…?

 

Tom lit the lantern from a match and sat back, warming his hands on the feeble heat coming from it, the light dancing on the walls.

 

…and then we can get on with the story. How would that be? No? Okay then, I’ll sit through the same drawn out descriptions every time someone does something, no matter how minor.

 

What that happened throughout the last third of the book, it really dragged it down. Steinbeck also decided that he only really needed two characters (Ma and Tom), and the rest drop into the background and become two dimensional and superfluous. He might as well have killed the rest on the journey to California for the impact they have in the story.

 

And the ending. Well, it just…ends. There are no conclusions, and we never find out what happens to the family. It’s like Steinbeck died halfway through and didn’t finish the story. In fact, I just checked online to see if my copy was missing a dozen pages. Nope.

 

Here’s how sucky the ending is (Skip it if you don’t want spoilers):

 

The Joad’s are flooded out of their shack of the week, and they come across a barn. Rose of Sharon (huh?), who has just undergone a still-birth, gives an un-named starving man her breast milk. The End.

 

WTF was THAT?

 

After four hundred pages, some of the most wonderful and poetic language, that’s IT?

 

Do the family starve? Do they drown? Do they go back to their shack after it dries out? Would it have killed him to write an epilogue? At that point I was glad to finish the damn thing and be done with it.

 

No more Steinbeck for me. After the flat characters of “Of Mice and Men” and making me care about a desperate family and then leaving me hanging, he’s had his chance.

Rambles: Taking some time off

I’m not writing anything at the minute. The last piece I wrote was for my creative writing homework, and that was three weeks ago.

 

And I’m good with that right now. I have a spider diagram of what I want to work on next – even a title – but it’s not calling to me to write it.

 

I wouldn’t call this writer’s block as much as writer’s exhaustion. Muse has been working in the mines for four years, five books and a dozen short stories, and she’s on an extended vacation. I know if I sit down with the plan for Book Six, I’d probably be off to the races, but I don’t feel like it. I feel burned out, actually.

 

My beta-readers are tearing through (apart?) Book Five right now, and I’m content to sit back and relax until they’re done with it, and start the re-writes. No rush, no deadlines.

 

Partially, it’s because Book Five was the hardest to write. My wife was out of the country for three months this year, and I missed her terribly. The events of the start of the year are still bouncing around and it’s been an emotionally draining year all round for my little family. I think Book Five struggled and was maimed by what was going on in my life.

 

Momentum is a hard thing to gather in the indie world. There’s a constant push for Indies to get out there, to be doing something on a blog, Facebook and Twitter and Goodreads every day. To sing and shout and juggle, to be visible and doing something. There are a lot of writers out there, and we all have to do the same talent show to the same audience, and keep doing it.

 

It’s exhausting, but to quote Carrie Fisher, “There’s no point where you can say, ‘That’s it, I’m famous, I can take a day off now.’ ”

 

I love writing, and can’t imagine my life without writing something. But I’m not going to be starting The Next Big Thing until the year ends in a four.

 

I wouldn’t feel like I was giving everything to the book, and that would be a cheat to the people who read them, and a cheat for me to write it.