book review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte
★★☆☆☆
originally published in 1847

 

I knew before I started Wuthering Heights that it tends to be one of those quintessential love-it-or-hate-it books, but I was fairly confident that I would love it. The complaints I’d seen leveled against it – dense prose, unlikable characters – are things I find myself often defending. As you can see, this did not go as expected.

The prose wasn’t just dense; it was clunky, awkward, and every sentence seemed to be crafted for the sheer purpose of deliberate obfuscation. Reading this book felt like walking through brambles that haven’t been trimmed, I’m not sure how else to describe it.

The characters weren’t just unlikable; they were loathsome, and (in my opinion) utterly one-dimensional. Heathcliff and Catherine are jealous, spiteful, and cruel, and… that’s it. Several hundred pages follow of them being jealous, spiteful, and cruel to one another. To clarify: my problem with this book isn’t that I didn’t find their relationship romantic – that’s the last thing I care about in a novel, really. I had been looking forward into digging into this iconic fictional relationship and finding myself fascinated and compelled by the dynamic. Suffice to say, I was neither fascinated nor compelled. I was bored.

My third problem with Wuthering Heights was the narration. It begins from the point of view of Lockwood, the most unutterably pointless character in the history of literature, and a few chapters in, Nelly begins to tell Lockwood the story of Heathcliff and Catherine. So you’ll have a direct quote from Heathcliff, which is being narrated by Nelly, which is then recorded for our supreme reading pleasure by Lockwood. And the thing is, there is nothing to distinguish Lockwood and Nelly’s narration. The narrative voices of a well-to-do gentleman and a housemaid should not be identical. It was also frustrating, the fact that everything was recounted secondhand. First person minor is probably my least favorite point of view of all time (I have similarly negative feelings about The Great Gatsby), so I am fully aware that this is mostly my own bias, but I don’t fully understand the point of crafting such a passionate and volatile tale only to keep your reader at arm’s length from it.

Sorry, Emily, I think I shall stick with Charlotte from now on.

wrap up: November 2017

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater ★★★★☆ + review
  • The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor ★★★★☆ + review
  • Philoctetes by Sophocles ★★★☆☆
  • An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis ★★★★★ + review
  • The Absolutist by John Boyne ★★★★★ + review
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin ★★★☆☆ + review
  • Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman ★★☆☆☆ + review
  • Crooked House by Agatha Christie ★★★★☆ + mini review
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – ★★☆☆☆ + review

* I haven’t technically finished Wuthering Heights yet, but I’m 99.99% sure I’m going to finish it by the end of the day, and if I include it in this post that means I have to make myself finish it, right???

EDIT: I did it!

(Also, if you think I just scrolled through Goodreads until I found a random pink cover of Wuthering Heights to fit the aesthetic of the rest of my November books, you would be 100% correct.)

Best: The Absolutist by John Boyne
Runner up: An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis
WorstWuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

NOVEMBER TOTAL: 9 books
YEARLY TOTAL SO FAR: 94 books (goal was 60)

The majority this month were 4 or 5 stars, so I can’t complain!

I’m currently reading Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee.  (Also The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride which I’ve been reading for like four months and which I desperately hope I will have finished by the end of December.)

I’m trying to not be so rigid with my TBR as I’m naturally a mood reader, but I have so many ARCs that need my attention this month: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, Circe by Madeline Miller, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell.  In addition I’m hoping to get around to a couple of these: A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, Medea by Christa Wolf.

What’s the best book you read in November?  Comment and let me know!

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top 5 wednesday: Authors I Want to Write Like

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

November 29th: Authors You’d Want to Write Like

rehost2f20162f92f132f299a903d-6b20-45a5-a38d-37370b6d0286Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life is the book I want to write.  I mean, not literally, because Hanya already did it, but the incisive and thoughtful quality of her prose is exactly what I strive for in my own writing; there’s such an effortless quality to it that I admire so much more than overly flowery prose.  Her characters are nuanced and multidimensional; her story is utterly devastating… all of the elements that come together and make A Little Life extraordinary are things I hope to achieve with a book some day.

“He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.”

– Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life


8719Donna Tartt: Okay, maybe I lied – if there’s any book I wish I could have authored more than A Little Life, it’s The Secret History.  I mean… I live in Vermont and it’s the setting I’m most comfortable writing, and I have a huge interest in the classics, and I love academia-based narratives, and I love literary thrillers… but Tartt got there first, alas.  But I’m not mad because I think she is such a tremendous talent.  I know that some people think her prose is pretentious, but I find it absolutely mesmerizing.  If I can write a paragraph half this good in my lifetime I will be very happy.

“It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”

– Donna Tartt, The Secret History


7195John Boyne: The aspect of Boyne’s style that I admire so much is his ability to flit back and forth between gravity and levity – The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the only book I can think of that made me actually laugh out loud, and cry on different occasions.  Sometimes I think I should write a book as unapologetically dark as the two I mentioned above, but then sometimes I think I should try my hand at dark humor, and Boyne would be the model I would turn to in that case.  I mean, even The Absolutist, as depressing as it was, had some unexpectedly comedic moments.  Although I usually think I’d rather make readers cry than laugh, I think doing both would actually be ideal.

“Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.”

– John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies


994Hannah Kent: Kent’s prose is superbBurial Rites is one of the most atmospheric novels I’ve ever read – I would love to write a book like this where prose and setting and characters all come together to create something so striking and devastating.

“Now comes the darkening sky and a cold wind that passes right through you, as though you are not there, it passes through you as though it does not care whether you are alive or dead, for you will be gone and the wind will still be there, licking the grass flat upon the ground, not caring whether the soil is at a freeze or thaw, for it will freeze and thaw again, and soon your bones, now hot with blood and thick-juicy with marrow, will be dry and brittle and flake and freeze and thaw with the weight of the dirt upon you, and the last moisture of your body will be drawn up to the surface by the grass, and the wind will come and knock it down and push you back against the rocks, or it will scrape you up under its nails and take you out to sea in a wild screaming of snow.”

– Hannah Kent, Burial Rites


 

585John Steinbeck: Okay, so, I used to think I hated Steinbeck.  I couldn’t stand The Grapes of Wrath or The Pearl, and I was very surprised when I enjoyed Of Mice and Men but quickly wrote it off as a random blip – so no one was more surprised than I was when I fell so in love with East of Eden earlier this year.  So when I say I want to write like Steinbeck, I mean, I want to write like Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden.  Everything about that novel’s construction is a masterpiece.  (I can’t take Steinbeck haters who haven’t read East of Eden seriously.  I mean.  Give it a chance.)

“When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Honorable mentions to Kazuo Ishiguro and W. Somerset Maugham who both nearly made the cut.

Which authors would you like to write like?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

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UNBURY CAROL by Josh Malerman
★★☆☆☆
Del Rey, April 2018

No one likes to be one of the pioneering negative reviews for a book, especially when you’re already invested in the author, so let me start out by saying: some readers are going to love this. Unbury Carol is not a bad book by any means – it was just not the book for me.

I recently read and adored Bird Box, and even though the summary for Unbury Carol seemed about as different from Bird Box as anything could be, I had enough faith in Malerman’s storytelling to confidently dive in. What I found was a very bizarre story, sort of a spaghetti western-horror-fantasy-fairytale hybrid.

Basically, Carol Evers has this condition where she goes into a coma for days at a time, and while she’s unconscious, she appears dead – you have to wait for a full minute to feel a pulse. When she slips into a coma at the beginning of the novel, this time her husband Dwight is conniving to bury her alive and steal her fortune. When he gets wind of what’s going on, a notorious outlaw – and Carol’s ex-lover – James Moxie, has to ride the Trail to Carol’s town, racing against time to save her.

Here’s my main problem with Unbury Carol: it relies on and perpetuates one of the most tired tropes of all time – the damsel in distress. That’s essentially what Carol is for the duration of the book. Whether Malerman eventually subverts this trope by having Carol save herself (which is hinted at early on as a possibility), I can’t say without getting into spoiler territory, but the fact is, rather than focusing on Carol herself, the majority of this novel is told from the point of view of male characters who have a vested interest in Carol’s fate: her husband Dwight, her former lover James, and a criminal called Smoke who’s hired to prevent James from reaching Carol in time. As an avid reader, it feels stale, and as a feminist, it feels insulting, to have Carol’s story stripped from her and framed around so many male characters. To clarify – Carol does have POV chapters. I don’t think everyone is going to agree with my assessment about her lack of agency – you could even argue that that’s the point, to illustrate the injustice of male characters having to fight for Carol’s sake. It just didn’t quite sit right with me, especially from a male author. I think any good intentions Malerman may have had with this book got swallowed up by a sort of unwieldy execution.

The good news is that Malerman still has a great way with words, and I flew through this pretty quickly. I liked several of his characters, too, especially Carol’s young and intelligent housekeeper, Farrah. Fans of westerns will probably be especially riveted by this story, which does well to evoke an old-timey western atmosphere, even though there are more fantastical elements than you’d traditionally expect. But the fact that I couldn’t even make it through Westworld probably should have clued me in that this wasn’t going to be for me.

Thank you to Del Rey and Josh Malerman for the ARC received in exchange for an honest review. Unbury Carol will be published in April 2018.

top 5 wednesday: Books I’m Thankful For

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

November 22nd: Books You’re Thankful For: For whatever reason, big or small.

There aren’t going to be any surprises on this list… these are books I’ve talked about over and over, but it’s only because they’re so important to me.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.  This series had the most concrete influence on my life of anything I’ve ever read.  I wouldn’t say that this is what got me into reading since I’ve been a pretty huge reader ever since I was very young, but it’s definitely the first series I remember being this passionate about.  I mean, like so many HP fans, I was obsessed.  I read and wrote fanfiction, I spent hours on the internet every day in middle school discussing theories, I went to all the midnight releases for the books and the films, and I literally met about ten of my closest friends through the Harry Potter fandom (shout out to Hadeer!).  I could reread this series a hundred times and never get bored of it.

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Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.  After Harry Potter Les Mis has definitely been the most impactful book on my life.  I decided to read it on a total whim when I was 17 (having absolutely no knowledge of the story or the musical) (honestly I don’t even remember why I chose to read it) and fell completely in love with it.  It then introduced me to the musical adaptation, and musical theatre in general which is now a pretty huge part of my life, AND I met a ton of my other close friends through our love for this story (shout out to Chelsea!).

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.  This book destroyed me unlike anything else I have ever read… which seems like a pretty bizarre thing to be thankful for, but reading this book was so cathartic for me??  I’m not a very visibly emotional person, so there was something kind of freeing about the big emotional response that this book elicited from me??  Anyway, this story has stayed with me in a way that so many other books have not.  Also bonding with people over this book is a very intense experience so I am thankful for that (shout out to Steph!)

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  So, I’ve talked about this a lot, but I read this book when I was a freshman in high school, and it was one of the first adult books I read as a teen that hadn’t been assigned to me in school.  At this point in my life I’d mainly been reading what my friends were obsessed with (a lot of Sarah Dessen and things like that) which never really did much for me, so I was starting to think I may not be the avid reader that I was when I was younger.  And then I read this book, and it opened up a whole world of adult literature for me, and I will always be thankful for this miserably depressing book I read at a time in my life when I could not abide happy endings.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  This is the book that singularly reignited my love of reading in 2015.  Basically, when I was in college, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to read for fun.  I graduated in 2014 and then spent most of the year meandering through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, which took forever, and I do like that series a lot but I wouldn’t say that I was particularly passionate about it – I think it took me over a month to read each of those books.  Anyway, after I finally finished that series, I read The Secret History, and reading this book in a lot of ways felt like coming home (not only because it’s set in my home state of Vermont and I’d never read a book set here that captures the atmosphere so perfectly).  It reminded me how much I love the classics, and how much I love depressing literary fiction.  This was the book I had been wanting to read for years, and after I put it down I just… haven’t stopped reading.  I would not have this blog right now if it weren’t for The Secret History.

BONUS because I couldn’t not include it:

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The Iliad by Homer.  I’m thankful for this story in a big way; I’m thankful for its influence on western literature and scholarship, I’m thankful that we have access to something composed in the 8th century BCE.  And I’m thankful for the role it’s played in my life; i.e., keeping me passionate about the classics, and introducing me to the works of poets and scholars and translators (Anne Carson, Caroline Alexander, Robert Fagles, et al.) who have worked with this story in some way over the years.

I’m also thankful for all the wonderful people I’ve met through this blog and through our shared love of books.  Happy Thanksgiving, friends!  What books are you thankful for?

 

The Listicle Tag #2

I was nominated by Ally to do the Listicle Tag – thanks Ally!

RULES:

  • Create your own listicle tag, using the prompt from the person who tagged you.
  • Tag the creator of the post (not-so-modern-girl!) so that she can read all your brilliant posts and see how the joy of listicles is being spread.
  • Nominate as many people as you want!
  • Set those 5 people the subject/prompt of their listicle post!

Ally’s prompt: Books you’d like to rewrite (any number of books!)

Let’s stick with 5 – I could be here all day.

17645The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.  Let’s just get the Greek mythology one out of the way since you knew it was coming.  I so wanted to love this book, which is supposedly a feminist retelling of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective, with a focus on Odysseus’s execution of Penelope’s maids, but so much of it rubbed me the wrong way.  The treatment of every female character other than Penelope was pretty abhorrent – I struggled to find the feminist merit in a book that reclaimed one female perspective, only to demonize all of the other female characters.  I’m also a BIG Helen of Sparta fan, so any Trojan War retelling which places the blame for the war on Helen (as this one did) irritates me to no end.  Basically, I’d love to rewrite this, keeping Atwood’s characterization of Penelope and the maids, but pretty much reworking the way all of the other female characters are treated by the narrative.

157387The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox.  This is a sort of tender gay romance between a man and an angel who can only meet on one day of the year, set in early 1800s France.  I was so sure that I was going to love this book that I would have confidently included it in one of those ‘five-star read predictions’ posts that I did yesterday, but it ended up barely scraping by with two stars.  I just thought the execution was so messy.  There were so many background characters and subplots which ended up being ultimately inconsequential, and the extreme unlikability of the protagonist made it sort of difficult to root for the romance.  I’m obsessed with this premise though; I would love to keep the format of the book (each chapter taking place in the consecutive year) and cut out a lot of the filler material.

550720The Night Watch by Sarah Waters.  This is another book with a fascinating premise.  It’s set in World War II London (nothing unusual there) – but it’s told going backwards in time; so the novel begins in 1945 (or ’46… somewhere in there) and ends in 1941.  The problem with this book?  It’s only about 5 chapters, and each one is so long.  So basically, we’re in the 1945 narrative… and it keeps going for a hundred pages – now WAIT, STOP, we’re traveling back in time to 1944.  And then the 1944 narrative moves forward for a hundred pages – now WAIT, back another year.  Etc.  It felt so disjointed to spend so much time in a certain year only to be jerked backward somewhat arbitrarily.  I think I would have made different use of the backwards timeline if I’d written this novel… and it’s frustrating, because there’s so much to love, including a great host of LGBT characters.

cover-mischlingMischling by Affinity Konar.  I either want to rewrite this book or just stop it from existing tbh…. I found this so, so, so offensive.  It’s another WWII novel, this time about a fictional set of twins who were the subject of one of Josef Mengele‘s inhumane experiments in Auschwitz.  This was a subject I’d learned about in high school, and I was eager to delve into a fictional account of Mengele’s zoo.  Unfortunately, I thought this whole novel was basically an elaborate literary exercise for Affinity Konar to show off her prose (which I found overwritten and mostly rather vapid), and I thought the whole thing was mostly sensationalized garbage.  I just didn’t think the Holocaust was a particularly appropriate subject for what struck me as an elaborate creative writing exercise in trying to come off as literary~.  If I wrote a novelized account of Josef Mengele, I would try to do so with more sensitivity than I found in Mischling.  (Sorry, I know some people love this book, I just… really hated it.)

26893819The Girls by Emma Cline.  This one seems timely with the death of Charles Manson yesterday.  I admit to being morbidly fascinated by cults, so I’d been excited to pick up The Girls, 2016’s ‘it book’ of the summer about a young girl who joins a Mason-esque cult in the 1970s.  But man, did I not like the execution.  First of all, I thought the prose was terrible, and second of all, what frustrated me the most was how the protagonist (and therefore, the reader) was held at an arm’s length from most of the action of the story.  Evie was always on the sidelines of the group and never really a true part of it, so I sort of felt like… what’s the point?  I hadn’t learned anything about the psychology of what drives a person to join a cult other than what I already knew, which was not a whole lot to begin with.  For how little research was in here, I was shocked at this book’s rumored 2 million dollar price tag.  I’d love the chance to rewrite this story and really delve into the subject in a way that Cline hadn’t.

My prompt:

Top 5 books you feel like you read at the wrong time.  Whether or not you intend to give them another chance, what are some books that you think you’ve unfairly hated over the years because it was a case of the right book at the wrong time?

I nominate:

Chelsea & Steph & Hadeer & Marta & Callum

(As usual, I will not be offended if you skip it!)

Five-Star Read Predictions

I’ve seen this challenge around a lot, but Callum‘s recent post inspired me to take part.  This challenge was started by Mercedes on booktube.  What you do is you pick out 5 books on your TBR that you think are going to be 5-star reads.  When you finish, you can come back and make a post letting everyone know how you got on.

My 5-star read predictions:

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis: I’m taking a bit of a leap of faith here because I only made it about three books into the Narnia series when I was younger and I didn’t like them at all (sorry), but, I’m fairly confident I’ll love this.  For one thing, it’s a Greek mythology retelling, which, you know me; and it’s about Cupid and Psyche, which will be a nice change from the thousand retellings about Achilles that I’ve read.  And for another thing, Steph loved it and she has yet to let me down with her recs!  (NO PRESSURE STEPH.)

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie: On the other hand, it feels sort of like cheating to include an Agatha Christie when I’ve had nothing but good experiences with her, but I was trying to stick to books that I already was intending to read in the next couple of months, so here we are.  I’ve read five Christie novels so far this year and I’m currently on my sixth (Crooked House) but I have actually yet to meet Miss Marple, so I’m excited about that!

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: This Man Booker longlister has so many of my auto-read buzzwords it’s not even funny… Irish, check; LGBT, check; historical fiction, check.  This is about an Irish boy who flees the Great Famine and signs up for the US Army in the 1850s.  I’ve heard nothing but good things and I’ve heard that Barry’s prose is spectacular, so I’m really looking forward to starting this.

Medea by Christa Wolf: This Medea retelling has been on my radar for a while and was recently re-recommended to me, so I think it’s about time I get around to it.  Medea is one of my favorite characters of all time and I loved Bright Air Black by David Vann, so I’m really looking forward to delving into her story again.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill: You know me, I love all things Irish and feminist, so I’m really excited about this one.  It’s a YA contemporary which is admittedly not my favorite genre, but it’s apparently about rape culture and victim blaming, which is a subject that I am very interested in and passionate about.  I’m getting the impression this will be one of those hard to read but rewarding books… I hope I love it!

Wow, all Greek mythology or Irish or Agatha Christie.  I’m so predictable.

Anyway, I’m not giving myself a set deadline for these because that’ll take some of the fun out of it, but I think it’s reasonable to expect that I’ll get around to them all in the next three months or so?  Whenever I do finish, I’ll make a post to update everyone on how many of these actually ended up being 5 star reads.  Wish me luck!

I’m also challenging Steph and Chelsea to do this (though you guys don’t have to) – and anyone else who feels like it!