Wuthering Heights

Rating: 
Author: Emily Bronte
Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Classics
Pub Date: 1847 (read on Audible Sep. 2018)
Audiobook Narrator: Joanne Froggatt

This was AMAZING! I know most people read Wuthering Heights in high school, but it was never on my curriculum for some reason. I read Jane Eyre a few years ago and didn’t really like it that much, but when I saw Wuthering Heights for sale on Audible, I decided to try it out. I listened to Emma earlier this year, so audible has been helping me knock back some classics.

I did not expect to like this. I haven’t had that much luck with classics, they tend to be slower paced and the writing is often difficult to get through, but every now and then you find an old classic that totally surprises you! I can see what this book is so polarizing. People seem to either love it or hate it. I can totally understand why people would hate this. None of the characters are likable and Heathcliff is just downright evil. But if you’re able to enjoy books with unlikable characters, then Wuthering Heights may be the book for you!

I loved it. Granted I found it a little bit confusing at the beginning because I couldn’t tell who was narrating the story and I was overwhelmed by all the characters and what their relations were to one another. But once I figured out all the characters, I was totally enthralled with this from start to finish! I was not expecting the level of drama that I got from this book and the 18th century scandal was just delicious to read about.

Wuthering Heights tells the story of the passionate love affair between Catherine and Heathcliff (the goodreads synopsis describes their love as “intense and almost demonic” and that is pretty much the most accurate description ever). Catherine grew up at Wuthering Heights, wandering the lonely moors as a girl. And boy is this setting lonely. There is a neighbouring village, but the only other neighbours are the Lintons, who live at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff is a poor orphan boy adopted by Catherine’s father, but loathed by her older brother Hindley. When Catherine’s father passes away, Hindley becomes extremely abusive to Heathcliff, forcing him to be a servant to the family. Nonetheless, Catherine and Heathcliff grow close wandering the moors together and fall in love.

The story follows a series of 18th century dramatic events in which Catherine ends up marrying her neighbour, Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff disappears in a rage. He returns years later, now wealthy and determined to enact his revenge upon the entire Ernshaw and Linton families.

It’s an interesting story in that it is told (mostly) from the point of view of Nelly Dean, a housekeeper who has played maid to both the Ernshaw and Linton families over many years, as she recounts the story to the visiting Mr. Lockwood. So it does call into question the reliability of the narrator. She has some obvious biases. but overall I liked her. The story is really split into two parts, the first focusing on the original Catherine and Heathcliff, and the second half focusing on the second generation. Nellie has been involved in the lives of both generations, so she brings an interesting perspective to the story.

So why did I like this? Besides being super entertaining, I loved all these characters, despite how horrible they are. I couldn’t help but root for Catherine and Heathcliff early in the novel. Heathcliff is abused at the hands of Hindley Ernshaw and brought extremely low, so you can initially forgive him for his hatred of Hindley’s family and the wealthy neighbours, the Lintons. Catherine is fickle and ignorant of her privilege. She regularly belittles Heathcliff and despite loving him, accepts Linton’s marriage proposal because she feels he is more of her station and social standing.

“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

This is probably one of the most popular Wuthering Heights quotes, but I love it just the same. I was more a fan of Heathcliff in the beginning because he was at least a victim of his circumstances, whereas Catherine was just haughty and mean, throwing tantrums and letting her temper get the better of her. So I didn’t really see what the attraction was between them, but really it is because they are both the same and have that same darkness and haughtiness in them. They are so enraptured in both themselves and each other and they don’t care who they hurt, so long as they will be happy. Catherine even considers her marriage to Edgar as a way to elevate Heathcliff’s position, which Nelly rightfully scoffs at, as if Catherine, a married woman, could just continue her relationship with Heathcliff after marrying Linton.

These characters are lonely and I feel like they are all victims of circumstance in a way. They have known only their wealth and they are not sympathetic to the plights of others. Lockwood draws our attention to how very out of touch they are with the world and after just a week at the manor, feels compelled to return to London to get away from the drama of it all. The entire novel is chaotic and feels very all consuming. Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights is a world unto itself, focusing solely on it’s inhabitants and their isolated drama.

I preferred the first half of this book to the second. The novel reaches a climax at around the midpoint, which is when the focus switches from the first Catherine, to the second generation: Hareton (Hindley’s son), Catherine (Catherine’s daughter), and Linton (Heathcliff’s son). While I preferred the first half of the book, the second half is what makes this a classic. The second generation of characters parallels the first generation and serves to highlight how the cycle of violence is destined to repeat itself. The use of the same set of names serves to further highlight the cycle. Heathcliff becomes Hindley, Hareton becomes Heathcliff, and Linton and Catherine become Edgar and the first Catherine.

In the second half of the novel, Heathcliff returns to enact revenge on the Ernshaws and Lintons and descends further into himself as the novel progresses. Heathcliff is really a monster of a character, even having been abused himself, he perpetuates the cycle of violence worse than anyone who came before him. He is devastated by Catherine’s death and we are led to believe that he is haunted by her ghost for the rest of his life. Catherine’s daughter is just as haughty as she was, Linton is a sniveling mess, and Hareton is an uneducated servant boy. It is hard to like any of these characters, and yet Bronte has written them in a way that has made me hugely invested in them. I wanted to hate Heathcliff, he is truly awful, and yet I always hoped for him to be redeemed. I kept waiting for him to honour Catherine by loving her daughter, but he becomes so mired in his revenge scheme and haunted by Catherine’s ghost that he looses any sense of humanity and becomes obsessed with having total and complete power over everyone involved. Yet the characters still persevere and despite losing absolutely everything and being indentured to Heathcliff, Catherine is still able to find joy in life – to feel pity for Heathcliff and find it in herself to love another.

Like I said, I can absolutely see how people hate this. There’s pretty much no likable characters, save maybe for our narrators, Nellie and Lockwood. But even they have their flaws. Nellie disliked the first Catherine and tried to help Heathcliff as a boy, so it is maybe her hope for Heathcliff to repent that sustains this feeling of hope throughout the novel. We just keep waiting for Heathcliff to finally decide that his revenge is now complete. But he is never able to fully break the characters and I love when he realizes this at the end. Despite every atrocious act he commits, the young people are still able to find love and happiness through their trials. It is only at this point that Heathcliff is able to recognize how revenge has consumed his life and sanity. He finally realizes the futility of his hatred and thinks only of his longing to be reunited with Catherine.

It’s essential to give credit to the audible narrator, Joanne Froggatt. She is absolutely wonderful in this rendition of Wuthering Heights and probably a big part of what contributed to my enjoyment of the book. Her accents are excellent and I loved the different tone of voice that she used with each character. I was dismayed to learn that she also narrated a version of Jane Austen’s Emma, because I listened to Emma a few months ago and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more had I listened to Froggatt’s version. Anyways, I would highly recommend this audiobook. It’s probably also worth mentioning that while reading this, I followed up the chapters with a quick read of the Sparknotes chapter summaries. It helped a lot at the beginning with figuring out who each of the characters were. I wish I’d done this for Emma too because I found the cast of characters super confusing in that book too.

So in conclusion to this long winded review – I am definitely a fan of Wuthering Heights! I get why people don’t like it, but it’s also clear why this has become a beloved classic.

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An American Marriage

Rating: ⭐
Author: Tayari Jones
Genres: Fiction
Pub Date: Feb. 2018 (read Jul. 2018)

This is so hard to review! I loved the first 2/3 of this book – I thought the writing was fabulous and the character development was so fantastic. Jones created this heartbreaking scenario and dynamic between the characters and I thought it was executed brilliantly. But I didn’t love the last third of the book, not because of how it ended (endings frustrate me all the time, but it doesn’t make them bad), I just didn’t love the character dynamics in the last third of the book. Although it wasn’t enough to deter me from rating this highly because I did really think that the writing in this book was fantastic.

Here’s the scenario: Celestial and Roy have been married for just over a year and are very much still learning about each other when Roy is falsely accused and prosecuted for a crime he didn’t commit. He is incarcerated for 12 years and it is just heartbreak to watch these two characters be torn apart and the injustice of having your life stolen from you just when you were settling down to really start it.

Like I said, I thought the set-up for this story was brilliant. The author spends just enough time introducing you to these two characters before breaking your heart for them. They were both in their early 30’s when Roy goes into prison and have essentially had the core of their marriage and life together stolen from them. They stay together, but Celestial eventually starts to move on with her life and moves on to another relationship, while Roy is stuck in the limbo of prison. Unable to fight for himself or his wife or to be their for his parents when his mother becomes ill.

When Roy gets a surprise early release after serving only 5 of his 12 years, Jones places her characters in an impossible situation, where no one is wrong, but everyone is hurting. The outside world has moved on without Roy, but he is not ready to let his old life, or his wife, go.

I loved this scenario because there is no right or wrong answers. Everyone feels wronged, but no one is necessarily wrong. They were placed in a mess of a situation and they all tried to move forward as best they could. I loved the emotional dilemma of this story because it really made me think and the simple storytelling evokes a lot of emotions. Roy and Celestial’s parents play a large role in the story too and I loved how Jones wove this characters into the narrative and used them as support for the familial themes throughout the novel. I really do think this was an excellent piece of storytelling and it’s why I will still be giving the book 4 stars.

But let’s talk about the problematic pieces (for me anyways). I didn’t love the last third of the story because I thought it fell too heavily on Roy and Andre. They spent forever fighting over Celestial like she wasn’t even a human being with any agency. They both felt they were entitled to her for the own reasons and neither was particularly interested in who Celestial really wanted to be with (especially Roy). Celestial’s voice in the story totally died out and she became so malleable to the two characters that I had no idea who this character even was any more. I wanted her to stand up for herself and I wanted the two men to acknowledge that the choice was ultimately hers, no matter how wronged they might feel by the decision. I mean, essentially I don’t think Celestial even knew what she wanted, which may be why the author wrote her this way, but I just got frustrated listening to the two men talk about her.

I mean, I know this is accurate to how a lot of men do think, so I can’t fault Jones too much. I just wanted Celestial to have more agency. It reminded me of TV shows and movies produced by men where the female characters only serve to advance the male protagonist’s storyline. I sometimes felt that Celestial was a secondary character to Andre and Roy and that at the end, she only really existed to serve their development.

The ending did actually redeem it a little bit though because one of the characters finally came to some realizations about the relationship and their behaviour. But Roy’s entitlement made me mad. He made some pretty questionable choices after he got out of prison that made me lose my respect for him. I really think he had no high ground to stand on at all after some of the choices he made, but he still felt entitled to Celestial and their marriage. Even with some of these realizations at the end, Celestial is still only a reactionary character.

I may have to do a bit more research on the author. I’m interested to know what she based Roy’s prison and release experience on and whether she has any personal exposure to how people in similar situations have felt and acted upon being released from prison. I don’t want to judge Roy too harshly because I know that 5 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit must mess with you and I’m sure played a large role in how he acted upon his release.

To conclude, I’m still giving this 4 stars because I did really enjoy it and even though I didn’t like how the characters acted, they were still absolutely believable characters and accurate to how I’m sure some people would react in this situation. They didn’t have the maturity and respect I wanted them to have, but that doesn’t mean that weren’t good characters. Mostly I just wonder if the author intentionally wrote Celestial as such malleable character, or if she just didn’t even realize she’d given her character no agency and placed everything on the two male characters. If it was a male author I’d definitely call it a blind spot, but as a female author, I really don’t know if it was intentional or not.

The other reason I feel this still deserves 4 stars is because it is also a fantastic commentary on race, without being fully about race. I haven’t even mentioned that the entire cast of this book is black and that this undoubtedly plays a huge role in why Roy is wrongly convicted. Jones makes an important commentary about racial profiling and the injustices of the justice system, without making it her central theme. It’s ultimately a book about the long lasting impacts that the justice system can have on not only the individual, but their families and communities.

Girls Burn Brighter

Rating: 
Author: Shobha Rao
Genres: Fiction
Pub date: Mar. 2018 (read June 2018 as audiobook)

This was a super heavy read. At one point I’m sure I read the synopsis for this and thought, a book about disenfranchised women who find power within themselves, how empowering, sign me up. But between reading the synopsis and downloading this book as an audiobook, I totally forgot the plot and was super disturbed at how dark this was!

Girls Burn Brighter is set in India (amongst other places) and focuses on the friendship between two young women, Poornima and Savitha. They are only friends for a short period of time, but they develop a strong relationship during that time and come to realize that the other is the only person to ever truly love and care for them throughout their lives. They are torn apart by the circumstance of being young women of marrying age in India and both suffer some truly atrocious acts of hatred and spite against them.

It’s totally evident if you read the synopsis, but I did not realize this was a book about human trafficking. Human trafficking is one of the great injustices facing our world today and yet there is very little literature devoted to it and it makes for a truly upsetting read. I suffered through this book along with both Poornima and Savitha. It was uncomfortable and hard to read and that’s exactly how a book about human trafficking should be. A few months ago I read a book, A Girl Like That, about the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia and was truly appalled.

For some reason I thought India treated women better (than Saudi at least), but this book shocked me in its malice. The men in this book had so little regard for women and many of the men in the novel truly despised them. Yet I had no problem imagining these men and their cruelty. I did know I was getting myself into a tough read, but this book really made me despair for humanity. It also tells the story of two strong women who, despite all the suffering that has been visited upon them, still yearn and aspire to a better life. They find strength in the love they have for one another and no matter what shit life throws at them, they always continue to pursue something better for themselves, and in Savitha’s case, something better for her family too.

I listened to Girls Burn Brighter as an audiobook, but I’ve since decided to switch back to non-fiction for my audiobooks for a while because this is another book that the audio just didn’t quite do justice to. The writing is quite flowery and I think I would have liked it a lot in written form, but in audio I tended to get a bit distracted by the writing and sometimes would zone out.

The ending is oh so frustrating. I knew I was approaching the end and I was so nervous as to how the author was going to end things and while I don’t fault her for the ending, it was still torture! The plot was a little unbelievable for me, partly because I couldn’t believe so much hardship could be experienced by two people, but also in that the coincidences in this novel were just a little too far past believable for me. But it is a great story about the strength and perseverance of women. Just mentally prepare yourself before you go into this book because it was honestly one of the most emotionally draining books I’ve read it a long time.

Emma

Rating: 
Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub Date: 1815 (read June 2018 as an audiobook)
Audio Narrator: Nadia May

Whyyyy is this book so loooong?! This was my first Jane Austen and I really wanted to like it, but I feel like I just did everything wrong with this novel.

First of all, I listened to it in Audiobook, and while I did get a laugh out of the narrators british enthusiasm, I just couldn’t keep track of the characters or who was narrating. Plus it took me like 2 months to listen to and the plot is so low key that I kept forgetting what had happened before or who any of the characters were. So audiobook was probably a bad format for this one, but I’m still not convinced I would have liked it much better in print. There’s some classics I like, but a lot of them just make me feel bad and uncultured because they’re supposed to be good literature, but I just find them so unbelievably boring.

I do get it though. I can definitely appreciate what Austen does with this novel. She is very clever with her writing and her characters and I laughed a lot at Emma, although mostly just at how stupid she was. It’s a little mind boggling that this was first published all the way back in 1815. That is over 200 years ago and people are still reading this and the setting wasn’t even that different from today! There is definitely still a class of rich british aristocrats that get caught up in this gossipy matchmaker stuff and making sure that everyone sticks within their “class”.

I forget how old Emma is, but she lives at this english estate called Hartfield and goes about her life until she makes a new friend Harriet and endeavours to play matchmaker for her. Emma has decided to never marry herself and throws all her energy into her friendship with Harriet. Then there’s a series of hi jinx in which Emma repeatedly tries to set Harriet up with men who run in a much higher class than Harriet and she constantly misinterprets everyone’s intentions, even though she believes herself to be the highest and best judge of character.

Anyways, I may have enjoyed this more as a print book and even thought I didn’t really like it, I don’t really have much bad to say about it. I do get why this is a classic, I just personally struggled with the pacing and seeming lack of plot. I feel like not very much happened in this book, and yet it’s still almost 500 pages. So not a favourite from me, but it wouldn’t deter me from trying Austen again in the future (but NOT as an audiobook).

What’s your favourite Jane Austen book?

Us Against You

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Fredrik Backman
Genres: Fiction
Read: Mar. 2018 (Pub date: Jun. 5, 2018 in North America)

Thank you to Atria Books, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As some people might be aware (because I can’t stop talking about it), Beartown was my favourite book of 2017, so I was super happy to get an advance copy of the sequel, Us Against You, and I even re-read Beartown to get back up to speed on all the characters. I loved Beartown just as much the second time around, but I was really nervous about this one because I didn’t think Beartown really needed a sequel and it’s easy to kill a good thing milking the cash cow too long.

Disclaimer: Beartown spoilers below plus minor spoilers for Us Against You, but nothing you don’t learn early in the story.

Us Against You starts where Beartown leaves off. It’s summer, but everyone is anxiously awaiting to see what will happen to their beloved hockey team in the fall and Peter is worried that there may not even be a hockey club to be anxious about. Kevin and his family disappear overnight, but Maya’s family decides to stay. Beartown is their town as much as anyone else’s and they believe they shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome.

Most of the former Junior team has followed their coach David to Hed, but Amat, Bobo, and Benji remain behind in Beartown. In the absence of the former team and coach, several newcomers arrive on the scene and hockey and politics become more intertwined than ever.

Fredrik Backman’s writing is just as beautiful as ever in this book. The novel continues in the same voice as its predecessor and it is just as lyrical and insightful. My copy of Beartown is tabbed everywhere with quotes that I loved and I tabbed a lot of well written passages in this book as well. But sadly, some parts of this book just didn’t work for me.

As a standalone, Beartown offers a varied perspective of the plot. Backman takes us on a journey with his characters and their perspectives are all incredibly moving. Beartown is very much a character driven book, but it still had a strong plot to carry it forward. Us Against You is still a character driven novel, but the plot isn’t as strong and it struggled to carry all these voices.

The plot is slower than Beartown and there is a lot of political drama that is just too convoluted and honestly, doesn’t even really matter that much. Backman tells us in the synopsis that before the end of the novel someone will be dead, and he builds his plot around this climax. The drama builds between Hed and Beartown and hate and violence lead to more hate and violence, culminating in tragedy for everyone.

Backman continues with some of the themes from Beartown, examining the long-lasting impact that rape can have on a girl and her family, and the sense of community that comes from a shared love of sports. Backman also explores the compounding impact of violence and our resistance to change. Hockey has always been seen as a men’s club and those men can feel very threatened when faced with equality politics and will try and protect themselves at the expense of anyone who does not fit within their idea of who hockey is for.

So I very much loved the themes of this book, but I struggled more with the perspectives. We’re given a lot of new perspectives in this book, which is great, but we also lose a lot of the perspectives from the previous book of characters we’ve already come to know and love. I really liked that this book expanded to include Maya’s brother Leo and more of William Lyt, but it also included a lot about the Pack and this is where it got bogged down for me. I wasn’t really interested in Peter’s feud with the Pack or with Richard Theo’s schemes. Richard Theo serves to mount the tension within the towns, but I don’t think he was needed. His schemes were too convoluted and the characters could have carried the plot without him. Hed and Beartown would have been at each other’s throats, regardless of the drama with the factory jobs and the political scheming.

I thought the novel had a great start with William and Leo fighting and the breakdown of the Andersson Family. I thought Kira and Peter’s storyline was so heartbreaking, but it felt so real and I could empathize with how the strain of losing your firstborn and your daughter being raped would slowly start to breakdown your marriage. Likewise, I love where Backman takes us with Maya, Ana, and Benji in this book. Benji was one of my favourite characters in Beartown and you just ache for him reading his story. He is one of those totally perfect, imperfect characters. I thought all of these storylines were strong and they really carried the novel for me.

But like I said, I struggled with the Pack. I didn’t care about Teemu and I thought Vidar came in too late into the story for me to really care about him either. I get what the Pack means to Teemu, Woody, Spider, and Vidar, but I think Backman communicates this concept of family and community just as well through his other characters. Likewise, the Pack served to escalate the violence between Hed and Beartown, but again, I think this theme could have been carried just as well through other characters like Lyt. I really liked the idea of Vidar and I’m thrilled Backman decided to spend some time on the goalie, which is an essential part of any team, but Vidar lacked developed at the expense of the rest of the Pack. I would rather see his character fully realized than have all the secondary Pack characters.

I am disappointed that David didn’t have a voice in this story and that Amat and Bobo’s voices were limited. I really liked all of these characters and I really think Backman could have given them more in this story. We hear very little from the Beartown players who switch to Hed. They go to Hed to play for David, not Hed and I would have liked to hear more about how they felt about suddenly playing for their rival and the struggle of losing the support of their community. It’s kind of taken for granted that the boys and their families would all just change allegiance to Hed (and that Hed would accept them), but they were all Beartown born and still lived there, so I felt that suddenly playing for their rival would be a real source of conflict for some of the players and that they would struggle to be accepted by Hed and the other members of the existing A-team.

My biggest struggle with this book though is the emotional pacing. I felt this book was more emotionally manipulative than the first book and the writing started to feel a little repetitive. Beartown is an incredibly powerful, emotional read and Backman uses a lot of the same phrases and wording to try and create those cathartic moments, but they lose their impact when you read them 3 and 4 times throughout the novel.

This book is just damn depressing. Like I said, Beartown is definitely an emotional read, but it still has hopeful and happy moments to contrast the sad ones. Us Against You has very few hopeful moments. It is just down, down, down for the entire novel and any happy or hopeful plot points are just too small to bring this book back up. I felt like I was falling into the pits of despair throughout the whole book and I never had any chance of climbing back out.

We’re told in Beartown that 2 of the boys will turn professional and that the young girl, Alicia, will grow up to be the best hockey player Beartown has ever seen. So I can’t help but assume that Beartown must succeed at some point for these players to achieve success and I want to read about it! I don’t know if Backman has a third book planned for this series, but I could see this having another book and I really hope it does because I need to see Beartown transformed. I’ve seen them beaten down and shit on and now I need to see them heal and grow. I didn’t think Beartown needed a sequel, but now that it has one, I really need it to be a trilogy so that this can be the dark middle book. This works as the angst-y middle book, but not as the finale. This story feels unfinished and I really hope it gets a (better) conclusion.

For this reason it’s a hard book to rate. Granted, I am holding Backman to a higher standard because of how phenomenal Beartown was, and I still loved the writing and several of the character arcs in Us Against You, but I need more from this series now! I think there’s a lot of potential for a final book and if that is the case, it would change my review. I don’t mind being brought low in book 2 if you’re going to raise me up in book 3. But if this is where it ends, I am definitely left disappointed.

FYI, you can pre-order Us Against You at fredrikbackmanbooks.com