Sunday, May 05, 2013

Review: Wuthering Nights: An Erotic Retelling of Wuthering Heights by I.J. Miller and Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is my all-time favorite book. I was in high school when I read the book for the first time, and I’ve read the book many times since then, and still it has a powerful impact on me. I claim that Heathcliff ruined me for all men. If I can’t be loved the way Heathcliff loved Catherine, then why bother? I’d rather be alone. And, well, yeah, you get the idea.

I know there are lots of people who don’t like Wuthering Heights. I notice the way people look at me when I mention it being my favorite book. I believe when it was first released it was regarded as quite awful. They say it’s too dark and the characters too selfish and horrible, lacking any redeeming qualities. But to me, they were simply two people who put their love for each other before everything else. Things like social convention, family and marriage are tossed aside in their desperate quest to be together again. The world stood between them, but even death couldn’t keep them apart.

Reading this as a teenager, I found this book to be more sexually intense than the explicit Danielle Steel books my friends and I were reading in secret. My mind had no trouble imagining what Heathcliff and Catherine were doing while alone in the moors. And when he went to visit her in the home she shared with her husband, I doubted they simply chatted and drank tea while her husband was away. This is why I was intrigued by the idea of “an erotic retelling” of this story that I’d loved so much.

But I hated Wuthering Nights. I hated this book so very much. I wish I had not read this book. It disturbed me, it grossed me out and it made me angry. So many times, I put down my Kindle and said to the empty room, “This is so stupid!” This was not the story of my beloved Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. There was nothing beautiful or passionate about this story. There was plenty of sex, but it was rarely, if ever, associated with love. The sex in this book was there to shock and horrify. It was about control, domination and humiliation. This didn’t turn me on, this disgusted me.

For some reason, Catherine, as a teenager, fooling around with Heathcliff, seems to have transformed into a 90s teen, willing to do “everything but” so as to not violate her purity ring. Not very believable. And Heathcliff is now a rapist, but he’s so impressive that his victims seem to enjoy what he does to them, and keep begging for more. Even with Catherine, who is supposed to be his very reason for living, he simply wants to degrade her, wanting to control her instead of love her. Heathcliff would never have been so coarse with Catherine and Catherine wouldn’t have tolerated that kind of treatment.

Some of the scenes were so very horrible. For no clear reason, Heathcliff decides to start chopping wood outside of Catherine’s house – this is after she’s married. As he’s chopping wood, Nelly, Isabella and Catherine are all in the window – three different windows — watching and masturbating. Catherine strips and presses her naked body against the glass door, in full view of Heathcliff, who simply keeps chopping wood. Then all three of the women orgasm at once at the sight of him taking a piss. Really? Gross.

But it gets worse. Heathcliff has a dungeon that would rival that of Christian’s Grey’s. It’s in this dungeon that he says to his wife, “My cock controls you.” Oh good grief. Then we’re treated to a three-way between him and Nelly and Isabella. This is the point in which I put down the Kindle and said, “Why am I reading this trash?” But for some reason, I kept reading.

The odd thing was, after reading something horrible, eventually I’d get to a part that I loved, and I’d think, “oh, okay, this is getting better” and then I realized every time that happened, it was because I was reading a part directly lifted from the original Wuthering Heights.

I suppose that lovers (or haters, for that matter) of Wuthering Heights all have their own opinion of the true nature of Heathcliff and Catherine. The characters in this story were not at all the way I imagined them to be based on my many readings of Wuthering Heights. My Heathcliff would never, ever do these things. Oh, I admit, he had a fierce temper and the potential to be cruel, but it was fueled by his anger at being separated from Catherine. He would have never treated Catherine the way he did in this book and he wouldn’t have cared enough about the others to torture and control them in this manner. None of that behavior came close to getting him what he wanted, and he wasn’t the sort of man who got sidetracked from his main goal. Now while I do admit to always thinking there was something controlling and maybe a bit kinky going on between him and Isabella – because why else would she have so readily abandoned her family for him? – I refuse to believe it reached the level of dungeons, whips and dog collars.

Clearly, someone who viewed Wuthering Heights as a love story did not write this book. It seems to be more the result of someone who was forced to read it in school and felt the need for vengeance.

I wish I’d not read this. Not only did it make me angry and disgusted, but it also gave me horrible nightmares. How dare this ruin the years of sweet dreams I’ve had of Heathcliff! This book might be enjoyed more by someone who doesn’t have a strong attachment to the original, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who loved Wuthering Heights. In fact, if you loved the original, stay far away from this re-telling.

I reviewed a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

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