One of my favourite books as a teen was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, a book that caught my imagination and lingered in my memory for years. As an adult I read and enjoyed The Tennant of Wildfell Hall by her sister Anne. However despite several attempts the work for which their sister Emily is renowned has never had the same effect on me. This is in truth an understatement, and now is probably the time to confess that I actively disliked the leading characters and have never managed to finish reading the book. My relationship with Wuthering Heights goes back a long way. I’m of the age to remember the Monty Python sketch in which Heathcliff and Cathy communicate by semaphore across the Yorkshire Moors. No wonder I struggled when this prompted my first attempt at reading this classic! Fast forward a couple of years and Kate Bush gave the book a whole new appeal so older and hopefully a little wiser I had a second attempt. Although more successful I still found the Yorkshire dialect and the complex plot unappealing and started to wonder what I was missing. Over the years TV adaptations and a guilty conscience have encouraged me to try and engage with this highly rated classic and I simply couldn’t. I had admitted defeat.
However Barrington Stoke and Carnegie Award winning author Tanya Landman have come to my rescue. Earlier this year the publication by this brilliant team of a retelling of Jane Eyre captured what made that particular book special for me and made it accessible to a wider audience. I enjoyed that version immensely. Could they make this reluctant reader finally understand the appeal of this classic beloved by so many? The short answer is, yes. Let me explain how.
Firstly it is, I think, a stroke of genius to retell the story from Cathy’s point of view. She is a complicated character, as a child unmanageable and wild and as a young adult selfish and at times unkind, even cruel, so allowing the reader to observe and experience events through her eyes is enlightening. Heathcliff is not a conventional romantic hero by any means; his desire for revenge coupled with Catherine’s self absorbed wilfulness is crucial to the plot. Possibly this is why I struggled with the book when I was young as I mistakenly expected a romantic novel when in fact it is a tragedy. Tanya Landman’s powerful retelling captures all the drama, passion and conflict so well. In the opening chapters she conveys how much the wildness of the Yorkshire Moors means to the young Catherine. The child loves nature and feels at one with the landscape she inhabits and unhappily constricted when she is confined to the home. Cathy’s wild ways put her at odds with those around her but encourage the bond which rapidly develops with the young orphaned Heathcliff when he is brought home by her father.
As the story progresses and the conflict between family members and others grows the sense of claustrophobia and impending doom loom ever larger. The story has lost none of its darkness in Tanya Landman’s shortened version but is made more understandable and accessible. The bond between the two troubled characters is depicted with care showing how Catherine and Heathcliff are almost like twins in their thoughts and attitudes. There can be no happy ending for this couple and the reader accompanies them through their harsh childhood, foolish marriages and pain.
I was impressed at how Tanya Landman managed to retain the overall tone of this dark tale and yet still ensure that young readers are able to engage with the story. I can imagine this would encourage discussion about the motivation of key characters and provide an opening to the novel itself for some. This would be an invaluable book for secondary schools and will, I am sure, bring this novel to a wider readership. It definitely worked for this sceptical reader!
Published on 6th August and as with all Barrington Stoke books presented in a dyslexia friendly format this book would be excellent for reluctant readers and for more confident readers looking for a quicker read. With content suitable for teens this book has a reading age of 9.
I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy.