One of my first blog reviews here was for Reader, I Married Him, a collection of stories inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Since then, I’ve returned to my childhood copy of an abridged Wuthering Heights, and recently I reviewed The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis, a marvellously imaginative take on the Brontë’ siblings as detectives. So it’s safe to say that I’m a fan of all things related to Brontë. And I’m obviously not alone – whilst I have lots of reservations about Wuthering Heights, there’s something about it that continues to fascinate, and this collection of short stories, a sister anthology to Reader, I Married him, evidently comes from the same place.
As with any anthology, a reader will have their favourites. One of mine is The Cord, by Alison Case. This is Heathcliff’s story as he staggers, physically wounded by hearing Cathy’s words to Nelly that night in the kitchen. The intensity of his feelings for Cathy is given a tangible connection, and he is undoubtedly the victim of a family which has plucked him off the streets but which can never fully accept him as their own. This idea is also the main focus of Michael Stewart’s Heathcliff is Not My Name – the idea of claiming and rejecting of names is key to both stories, in fact – but here it is Heathcliff’s feelings of immense animosity towards his adopted brother that drive the narrative on. This Heathcliff is bitter, hostile, and the reason for his eventual return to the area is made very clear.
I also liked The Howling Girl by Laurie Penny. This riffs on the image of the dead girl outside the window, asking to come in. It moves some distance away from Brontë’s story, but it retains a focus on unequal relationships and, like Isabella Linton, we see a young woman being badly treated by a man she has adored. The ending is fab. In a similar way, the ending to Heathcliffs I have known, by Louisa Young, made me hoot with appreciative laughter – I won’t quote it all, but here’s a taste:
‘I’d like to be in your CBT session when they talk about co-dependency. ‘I am Heathcliff,’ you say. No you’re not, love. You’re really not.’
This story is a litany of stories about relationships with men who have taken advantage, who have seen power as their due. It’s a powerful reply to all that. Like others in the volume, it tackles the elements of the tale I find unsettling and disturbing, namely the idea that this is in part a love story. Thicker Than Blood, by Erin Kelly, takes Heathcliff’s obsession with Cathy and updates the context, leaving us with a very unpleasant scene of possession at the end. The reality of such a relationship is starkly realised here.
The final one, Only Joseph by Sophie Hannah, which concerns the death of the girl poised to play Cathy in I am Heathcliff!, a school musical, was darkly funny and an excellent conclusion to the collection. It partly made me laugh because I had only yesterday recommended Wuthering Heights to my Year 9 class but had told them they could skip through Joseph’s bits as he chuntered away in the background. Now I feel guilty.
This is an excellent collection, and like Reader, I Married Him, these stories cast new light on the original novel, and will send readers back to remind themselves of Emily Brontë’s brilliant and disturbing work.