I’m a big advocate for reading books in their correct setting. When I went to Carcassonne I took a copy of Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth (and a history of the Cathars) with me. I read Shadow of the Wind in Barcelona and took the Third Man to Vienna. To be fair, I don’t have to read a book in its proper geographical location – I’m not keen on long haul flights so I’d never get to read anything set in Australia or the States. Which would be limiting to say the least (and The Martian would have been right out of the question). But if I am travelling to a place I do like to seek out something appropriate.
Of course, I spend far more of my time closer to home – travelling the world for ten months of the year will have to wait until I win the lottery – which could, in some cases, mean a rather limited range of books. I am, however, lucky enough to live in Yorkshire which means even if I ‘read local’ I have some wonderful parts of the country to focus on. Even better, I live close to Haworth so I get, in my view, the best of all possible worlds when it comes to classics too. (As someone who still can’t get on with Dickens I am eternally glad I don’t live in Kent…) And my latest review is of a book which takes a Brontë classic and looks at it from a new position.
I’ll be honest here – Wuthering Heights is not my favourite Brontë novel. It probably doesn’t even make the top three because I just can’t forget the moment when I realised that Heathcliff isn’t a romantic hero but a wife-beating bully but, luckily for me, this book focuses on the character of Nelly Dean, the housekeeper-narrator of Emily’s novel rather than Heathcliff or Cathy. We know from the original that Nelly had been brought up alongside Hindley and Catherine, that she was a servant in the household by the time Heathcliff appears on the scene and that she was an integral part of the whole story of Wuthering Heights. What this book does is fill in some of the blanks, particularly in terms of Nelly’s emotions and motives.
What I particularly enjoyed was the way that the tone and language seemed to me to be very close to that of the Brontës – although, oddly, rather closer to the moderate voice of Charlotte than to Emily’s more dramatic tones. I also liked the way that this book, while acknowledging that Wuthering Heights is an isolated place, helps to set the house within its surrounding villages, farms and towns. Don’t forget, I live near Haworth – I’ve seen how many buildings would have been around in the mid-1800s…