Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights is such a devisive story, and I sometimes wonder if readers expecting a gothic romance (perhaps similar to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre) are shocked by Emily’s dark tale of obsession, madness and revenge.

I first read Wuthering Heights on the cusp of my teenager years, and have re-read it several times since. I picked it up most recently after reading ‘The Bronte Mysteries’ by Bella Ellis, and once again I was drawn back into the wild Yorkshire moors and the tangled web of the Earnshaw and Linton families.

Narrated by Heathcliff’s tennant, and the Earnshaw and Linton families’ long suffering servant, Nelly, both appear to be somewhat unreliable narrators allowing their prejudices and superstitions to influence their perceptions and memories. Nelly, in particular, is interesting in that she openly admits to prying, meddling and with-holding information from Heathcliff, Cathy, Edgar and their children, nevertheless she tells a gripping tale.

While the tempestuous, destructive love affair between Cathy and Heathcliff, and Heathcliff’s subsequent quest for revenge, dominate the story, it’s the slower, kinder romance betwen Cathy’s nephew, Hareton, and her own daughter (also called Catherine) that finally restores peace to Wuthering Heights, despite how badly Heathcliff mistreated and wronged them both. Hareton and Catherine arguably represent the lovers Heathcliff and Cathy could have been if only circumstances had been different, and they’d been able to temper their wild impulses and passions.

Wuthering Heights is not without its flaws, but it remains one of my favourites, a story I return to again and again, finding something new every time I read it, and I’m still impressed by the power and urgency of Emily Bronte’s writing. Have a lovely week. X

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

It’s always slightly intimidating to review a well-known and well-loved story but Anne of Green Gables is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages, having somehow skipped over it as a child, and I recently borrowed a copy from the library.

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Anne of Green Gables is the story of a young orphan who goes to live on a farm with the aging siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, after a mix-up at the orphanage. Written as a series of chronological vignettes, the story follows Anne settling into life at Green Gables, through her school days, all her adventures, hijinks and (many, many) mishaps, making friends and finding “kindred spirits” along the way.

Anne is imaginative, absent-minded, fiery-tempered, relentlessly optimistic and prone to fits of melodrama, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her when her background of loneliness and domestic drudgery is revealed, with only her daydreams to keep her company until she moved to Green Gables. One aspect of Anne’s character that resonated with me was her reverence for nature, and how she always noticed the beauty of the changing seasons that so many of us take for granted. I also have a soft-spot for sensible, dry-humoured, calm and collected Marilla, and I loved the exchanges between Anne and Marilla, who seem like such opposites most of the time but are fiercely devoted to each other.

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This is such a gentle, comfort-read and reminded me of other childhood favourites like Heidi, The Secret Garden and Little Women that transport the reader to simpler times and capture all the trials, tribulations and triumphs of childhood and growing up. Have a lovely week. X

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

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The Burning Page is the third book in The Invisible Library series and picks up shortly after the events of The Masked City (reviewed here); Irene is still on probation for leaving her post as Librarian-in-Residence to rescue her apprentice Kai (preventing a war between the Fae and Dragons in the process), and they’re still recovering from their traumatic experiences in Venice.

The arch-villain of the series, Alberich, is back and openly threatening the Library; Librarians are being hunted and killed, and portals to the Library are being destroyed trapping Librarians in alternative versions of reality.

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Though these stories are delightfully fun, there is a moral dilemma at the heart of The Burning Page as Irene is forced to contemplate just how far she’s willing to go to save the Library – all the while being haunted by the seeds of doubt Alberich sowed that the Invisible Library might not be the force for good she believes but a self-serving organisation that does little to help the alternate worlds it meddles in.

Irene is as self-deprecating, harassed and resourceful as ever, and it’s genuinely entertaining to see how she uses the Language (a refreshing alternative to magic) and her other skills to get herself out of traps, ambushes and face Alberich in a thrilling duel. Have a lovely week! X

Review of ‘Umami’ by Laia Jufresa

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Umami is a novel set in Mexico City that follows the residents of five houses (named after the flavours sour, salty, sweet, bitter and umami) all of whom are experiencing some form of loss or grief. The story has five narrators, there is twelve-year-old Ana trying to make sense of the death of her little sister, Luz; Marina, an artist recovering from anorexia who creates colours to describe emotions; Alfonso, an anthropologist mourning the death of his vivacious wife, Noelia (who was in life grieving her own childlessness); Pina, Ana’s friend and neighbour, trying to understand her mother’s unexplained departure from the family, and finally, Luz, describing the events leading up to her death.

Umami has an unusual and non-linear structure, each chapter focuses on one character during a particular year starting with Ana in 2004, switching to Marina in 2003, then Alfonso in 2002, Luz in 2001 and Pina in 2000, before returning to Ana and working backwards again. The time and character shifts can seem disorientating at first but it allows the story to unfurl gradually and shows how seemingly ordinary interactions between the characters can take on greater meaning and significance once the consequences are fully revealed.

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Umami is a short novel that tackles some big themes such as loss, grief and identity. As Ana and Pina take their first awkward steps towards adolescence, Alfonso is adjusting to his own transition from husband to widower and also describes Noelia’s struggle with her own identity as a wife and respected cardiologist but “only a daughter” because of her childlessness, while Marina attempts to overcome anorexia, an abusive childhood and work out who she is.

The sense of loss that permeates through the novel isn’t the tidal waves of sorrow, anger and shock that wash over us when grief is fresh, but the dull ache of missing someone that never really goes away no matter how many years pass, and of slowly trying to find a new purpose in life.

The slow and thoughtful pace of Umami has been a pleasant contrast to the busy-ness at work and home in my own life over the last few weeks, and Umami is a poignant but hopeful novel that lingers long after the story ends.