Housekeeper Nelly Dean tells a multigenerational saga of wild weather and impossible love at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Wait, didn’t Emily Brontë already write that book?
Most retellings of Great Novels at least change the narrator. Not this one: it’s still the down-to-earth Nelly, still bending the ear of Mr. Lockwood, this time in a letter explaining that she left out a few things the first time around. Once you get past the artificiality and hubris of the setup and an awkward first chapter or two, though, you’ll find both an interesting critique of Wuthering Heights and an absorbing, convincing, and historically sensitive novel. In this version, Case’s debut, Nelly has relatively little time for Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw, the star-crossed lovers of the original. Instead, it’s her own story that absorbs her: her childhood at the Heights, her position as something between a servant and a child of the house, her education, the tragic passion that grows between her and Cathy’s drunken brother, Hareton, and the burden that falls on her—as the only sober, intelligent, and capable member of the household—to keep the Earnshaw family from falling into ruin. Case explores every permutation of pregnancy and motherhood, populating Nelly’s story with illegitimate, abandoned, miscarried, adopted, and aborted babies and fetuses. Her central and final revelation—about the shared parentage of important characters—is an interesting gloss on the original story, but she hints about it so strongly at the start that by the end it’s no surprise. Themes of violence, drunkenness, incest, and the supernatural evoke Emily Brontë—as you’d expect in a book that borrows its outline and setting from hers—but Nelly’s combination of competence and passionate self-restraint can seem more like something out of a novel by her sister Charlotte.
Although its obvious audience is Brontë lovers, this well-written historical novel brings enough depth and new material to stand on its own.