Read it: Reviewed it

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – Reviewed by Freddy Lowe Y8

Frederick Lowe here: as you know, I have set myself a challenge to read the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time and this is the Centaur Classics list. All opinions are entirely my own: I will be reading and reviewing all the nominated books and writing spoiler-free reviews of them and publishing on Goodreads as I go.

The book I have to talk about here is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. This is not going to be a particularly positive review: I gave this one star. I really did not enjoy this book.

Very briefly, this book is a very well-known classic; it came out in 1847; it is Emily Brontë’s only novel; it was first published by Thomas Cautley Newby. It follows a man who, when I started writing this review, I couldn’t even remember the name of because he was that badly developed! His name is Mr. Lockwood and he moves into a house named Thrushcross Grange and his tenant’s name is Mr. Heathcliff who lives at a house named Wuthering Heights. Mr. Heathcliff has suffered an extremely eventful and horrid past and we find out more and more about his family’s story from there.

Before I go any further with this review, I feel like I need to redeem some of what I am about to say:

  1. On Goodreads, this book has really high ratings. The mode rating is five stars (something that is not seen often!) and so many people see it as an iconic creation of literature. Some people truly truly adore this book.
  2. I am also well aware that we all see different things in novels and me saying that this book is rubbish doesn’t mean by any means it is rubbish; in the same way that the other many people who say this book is amazing define the book for definite either. Some people love this and me saying that this book is awful and there are loads of real let-downs in here doesn’t mean I’m any less of a reader or that I’m less intelligent: it just means we saw different things in it.

Regardless of that, that gives me no further reason to sing the book’s praises. I do not for one moment believe that my opinion is ‘wrong’ or less valid in ANY way; I merely put that there to show you I am aware of those things.

Why did I really not like this book? One major reason: I did not care tuppence about one single character. I could not connect with any of them, they were all written in the exact same way and not one of them was developed enough for me to care. I don’t feel that if someone chose a piece of dialogue from this novel and read it to me that I would know who that character was. As I’ve said, I couldn’t even remember Mr. Lockwood’s name prior to writing this review. When I was about a fifth of the way through, I read it that Cathy and Heathcliff were supposed to have this romantic relationship inside of the abuse they were receiving but I did not care. When horrid things were happening to characters in this novel, I did not care one jot. The characters were poorly written and had no development whatsoever and that was a very key component: for me to really love a book or even for me to just like one, I need to care about a character and know them well enough for me to love them and I did not get that at all with this book: all potential development of the characters was gone.

Another issue I had with this book which relates to the character development point in some ways is that I just found it incredibly dull. As I’ve said, that is partly because of the character development because if I am reading something about people I don’t care about, I am obviously going to find it dull. But there were other reasons: for example, the pace.

I really like slow paced books: I really do NOT like books that go too fast for the reader to even care one jot about what is going on. Wuthering Heights is a very slow paced book, it is! However, for me to like a slow paced book, it has to have the following things to replace the fact that we are getting very little plot:

  • Character development, which this book didn’t have.
  • Good writing
  • Interesting plot development Despite the fact that this book was slow paced, the three criteria it needed were all gone: no character development, no good writing and not enough plot development.

So far, this book is slow paced but two of the criteria for that slow pace have not been achieved: character development and writing. Plot development? None. The plot was really confused and did nothing for me. One of the main elements of the plot is sprung upon us quite early on (I can’t tell you what it is without spoiling things but there is something that happens very early on in the first few chapters that I read and had to wind back a few pages because I wasn’t sure how we had got here; it was not handled well and didn’t have enough development).

I will openly admit that the first couple of chapters of this novel I liked because I enjoyed the writing style. This book did not maintain that: this writing style is very classic-fiction-esq. but I would not say for one moment that it is outstanding. On the contrary, it loses its conveyance of atmosphere and build-up as the book gets further in. This book lost my love for the writing quite early on.

 

What I will say is this: if you enjoy classic fiction, I absolutely think that you should read this book regardless of whether you look for the same things I do in a book. Even though I thought this book was terrible, I still think that you should at least attempt to read this if you are a fan of classic fiction because I do understand why some people see a lot in this (I do!) but I am just aware that I saw this book differently and thought it was awful. But me saying this book is awful does not mean for a second that I’m saying to you ‘don’t read it’ because it has made its place in the literature of our world and you may be one of the people who really enjoyed it. As I said, I am in the minority of people who really disliked it.

To wrap up this review, I thought the writing started off well but then lost all of its colour as the book went along; I thought the character development was so poor; I thought it was dull and there was nothing in this book to invest in: not the characters, the setting, the writing: NOTHING. I shouldn’t be feeling that there is nothing in a book to invest in so that is why I gave the book one star of five and you cannot give fewer than that! In the end, there was nothing I enjoyed about this book.

 

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – Reviewed by Freddy Lowe Y8
As you may know, I am challenging to myself work with the Centaur Classics nomination for the 100 Greatest Novels of all Time. All opinions are entirely my own: I am going to be reading and reviewing all the books on the list and writing up my thoughts.
This review will be spoiler-free.

The book I am going to review here is Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. This is #65 on the list. It is safe to say that I have really mixed feelings towards this book. I started it off liking it, I didn’t think it was spectacular but I still just liked it; then I went through a stage when I really liked it and was really into it; then the book started to go downhill and I was enjoying it less and less and less and I ended up feeling a bit exhausted. Exhaustion is an emotion I felt quite a lot when reading this book. However, this is not going to be a negative review! Above all that, I still really enjoyed the book and I gave it four stars.

Brief synopsis: this book follows a very poor family called the Durbeyfields who have several children, one of which is a daughter called Tess, and when Mr. Durbeyfield finds out that he is potentially descended from the very rich family, the d’Urbervilles, the family sends Tess to claim their kinship, become friendly with the d’Urbervilles and in the long run, hopefully get money off them. When Tess arrives, the people she meets and who she becomes in the process causes her life to spiral out of control and we follow Tess’s story.

What I will say about this book is that some really horrific things happen to Tess throughout the novel. Some of them worked really well, some of them not as much. There are a few quite heartbreaking things that happen in only the first half of the novel but at that stage, it wasn’t developed enough to elicit emotion from me or any sort of empathy. I felt that by the time the first couple of really horrible things had happened, Thomas Hardy hadn’t developed her character enough to allow me to empathise.
Having said that, throughout the rest of the novel, Hardy uses those scenes as a device to develop Tess’s character further so by the time he developed her character further and really went into detail on how Tess was affected after those events, when more terrible things happened, I felt much more connected to the story and empathised so much more. The only thing was that bit in the first half that I didn’t think was as good.

Without spoiling anything, I think the plot itself was so powerful! All the characters were really well developed, I was really connected to them. By the time I finished the book, I was astounded with what Thomas Hardy could do with a story: it blew me away. Some of the writing in this book is beautiful and some of it is completely necessary writing. It wasn’t all perfect but most of it was very well-written. At those glorious moments in the novel when the writing applied to what was happening to the plot so perfectly and it was all together and working well, the story moved so smoothly and those were the moments I enjoyed so much. I grew to really care about these characters once I had gotten deep into the novel.

I have found a segment of the really amazing writing style to read to you. This will not spoil anything about the story but it is just incredible:
“Tess was conscious of neither time nor space. The exaltation which she had described as being producible at will by gazing at a star came now without any determination of hers; she undulated upon the thin notes of the second-hand harp, and their harmonies passed like breezes through her, bringing tears into her eyes. The floating pollen seemed to be his notes made visible, and the dampness of the garden the weeping of the garden’s sensibility. Though near nightfall, the rank-smelling weed-flowers glowed as if they would not close for intentness, and the waves of colour mixed with the waves of sound.”
(I could read that for days!)

In conclusion to the positives, the plot was so powerful and had me holding my breath and reading on urgently; the writing was astounding; the character development slowly got much better and on the whole, I really enjoyed this book and gave it four stars.

That is all great…however…

I started to feel slightly bored throughout the third quarter of the novel and I got quite annoyed and quite exasperated. I know that good books are all about moving the story slowly and focusing on the characters and the writing, that’s what a good book does! But despite what I’ve said about the writing, there were moments that got really tangential and that made me quite annoyed.
About halfway through the novel, maybe just over halfway through, there is something really major that happens that completely turns around Tess’s already quite confused life and I was really connected to that moment: I felt so much for Tess and wanted to follow her on the story as she coped with it. But instead I got this huge section which got more and more flamboyant when it came to writing and actually put the story to a complete halt. That frustrated me so much: it frustrated me that I was being pulled out of this otherwise great story to suffer this boredom. If the writing had been relevant to Tess’s emotions, which some of it was but if ALL of it had been, I would certainly have had more loving feelings towards that section but it wasn’t! It was neutral, hardly relevant, tangential and flamboyant. The point in the book where this was strongest was just 150 pages before the end. It got so frustrating at that point that I actually wanted to put the book down.

I am so glad I didn’t. Gradually, the story climbs back up and it does get better and I did start to enjoy it more and then there is something that happens in the final few chapters that sucked me right back in and I didn’t tear my eyes away from the page until the book was over. The final few chapters were just as powerful as the previous sections of the book had been and that raked back up all my previous enjoyment. During that really frustrating section of the novel, I wasn’t aware of how much I still cared about these characters before the final few chapters came along because it turned out I did still care loads! The final few chapters are so powerful and so well-written and the ending…where to begin? It didn’t make me sad, it made me scared. I wasn’t sad that this was happening, I was scared that this was going to happen and I felt so protective over these characters who I wanted to save. This book made me feel so many things and that is what I took away from it and that is why I gave this four stars.

To wrap it up, I thought the character development was great; I thought the writing was MOST of the time very powerful; I think this is one of the most poignant plot lines I have ever read in a long while and despite the period 150 pages before the end that it is so much worse than the rest, I enjoyed this book so much and I gave this four stars. I would definitely recommend it and I will definitely read another work by Thomas Hardy soon.