Monday, October 19, 2009

Review *The Heights* by Brian James

So I saw *The Heights* by Brian James in a catalogue and immediately yearned to read it. The Heights is a re-telling/re-imagining of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte...I Know! How cool is that?

I'm not in the torn-about-re-tellings camp at all. Bring them on, I usually say. Generally the re-imaginings have been fairy tales, such as the Once Upon a Time series published by Simon & Schuster, which takes a new look at tales such as The Little Mermaid and even The Snow Queen (my favourite fairy tale ever!). Re-tellings are cool; they take a beloved story and tell it again or in a different way. There are usually enough references to the original material that are fantastic to find, so I find re-tellings fulfilling.

And The Heights is no exception.

I haven't read Wuthering Heights in years but it was, along with Jane Eyre, one of my FAVOURITE books when I was in highschool. If my highschool-self saw me have to reference wikipedia.org to remind my now-self of the content of the book, she would scorn me with narrowed-eyes.

Wuthering Heights is such an interior book. The story hinges on a few romantic couplings, but the meat of the story is the emotional whirlwind of Heathcliff and Catherine's strange inner lives. Anyway, I want to talk more about The Heights.
The Heights is also a very interior story. It's told in the he's thinking-she's thinking way, alternating between the inner thoughts and feelings of Henry and Catherine. (I do have one point to bring up--why couldn't Henry have been named Heathcliff, or Heath? Why Henry? Also, random factoid: Heath Ledger was named after the literary Heathcliff. Thank you wikipedia). When the story opens, Henry and Catherine have been living happily with Catherine's father, Mr. Earnshaw, who adopted Henry. At five, Henry was found wandering around in the cold and immediately took to Catherine when Mr. Earnshaw brought him home. Since then, Henry and Catherine have been inseparable. Although Henry has no interest in anyone outside of their trinity. He acts like a jealous boyfriend around Cat's friends and pulls her away from any outside influence. You can tell within the first few pages that Catherine is beginning to buckle under this type of possessiveness.

And even then, Catherine is in love with Henry though they've grown up as brother and sister. Thinking everyone around them would think it's gross, Cat stays quiet. We hear from Henry that he's also quite in love with Catherine, but he doesn't care what anyone thinks; he's just afraid that she might reject him. I also picked up on Henry's potential for going berserk. He's pretty moody without Catherine's quelling presence. You can tell, this far in, that Henry is hanging on by a tenuous thread and very reliant for his sense of balance on Catherine, his father, and their life together. You can imagine what he'd be like without this element in his life.

And then Mr. Earnshaw dies. And even though I knew it was coming, my response was "Oh, crap". Because The Heights really is Henry's book. And it all goes downhill after Hindley, Catherine's brother, moves back into the house and tears Henry and Catherine apart.

One of the marked differences between Wuthering Heights and The Heights is the way I responded to the characters. When I read WH, I was in love with Heathcliff and his intense passion for Catherine. In TH, however, Henry is shown in the truer, less romantic light, of his character. He's a bit of a sociopath, uncaring for the deaths of people around him. And he's SO possessive of Catherine. He whines in the book about Cat changing in ways he can't control; her talking to people they made fun of in the past. If Henry were my boyfriend I would punch him in the head. He's so controlling.

And Catherine. I don't remember exactly why but I thought Catherine was a bit of a jerk in WH. But in TH she is completely believable as a character who changes because new people have entered her life. She is not a coiled thing like Henry. She's passionate and full of movement, and so she takes to growth more readily. Henry recoils from change of any form and lashes out violently whenever he feels slighted or threatened. And it takes the slightest breeze to threaten him.

Here's a little of Henry's inner monologue, near the beginning:

Catherine was different than ayone else in the world. I knew it just by staring at her. She wasn't just another girl...more like a star plucked from the sky and trapped between tiny bones...a star capturing heat that I could hold on to for warmth. My very own star that I knew would guide me forever as long as I held on tight and never let go. It's the only thing I've ever understood as easily as she seems to understand everything.
--Henry? What are you thinking about? I mean right now, what are you thinking about?--she asks me suddenly. Her voice has a way of pulling me back from my thoughts...pulling me toward her no matter how far away I've drifted.
I hold her hand a little tighter as we walk.

There are so many differences between the two stories that getting into The Heights is a completely new read, even if it has elements of an old story.

Mandy

4 comments:

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Sounds really good. Fab review.

Donna Gambale said...

One of the incredible things about Wuthering Heights was that both Heathcliff and Catherine were horrible people - angry and self-centered - but I couldn't help but root for their tortured love, despite their flaws. I'm definitely intrigued by The Heights.

Mandy said...

Juju: Lady, you ROCK!

Donna: Yes, for sure. The Heights has this element of H being a horrible person, but I felt C was more redeeming as a person than she is in WH. A really good read. Let me know if you DO check it out and what you think.

Brian James said...

Thanks for the incredibly thoughtful and detailed review. I think you really nailed what I was trying to get at.

One interesting point, was that in the original book, I HATED Heathcliff. I thought he was abusive and horrible. I actually attempted to soften him, to make his plight more sympathetic. He's the character I changed the most, thus the different name.

I wrote a lot about this on my blog if you're interested in checking it out.

Cheers,
Brian James

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