On my quest to get back into reading, starting with the classics, I eventually got to read Wuthering Heights. I wasn’t planning on doing a review of this but my initial disappointment when I finished the book has turned to anger about this book, particularly with it being considered a classic. It’s hard to know where to start. This review contains spoilers for the book as it is hard to talk about what I didn’t like without revealing it.
Novels can be bleak, they can have unhappy endings or ambiguous endings but these usually involve some kind of twist which changes the complexion of the novel. The hero/protagonist doesn’t have to be likable (although it can help) but there should be at least something to counter-balance this. In Wuthering Heights, there is nothing.
The main character Heathcliff is not likable, relatable and doesn’t even have a case of ‘well he’s a bad guy but…..’, he’s just an unlikable character. The fact that he is considered the main character, the anti-hero, baffles my mind. He, and nobody else in the book, learns any lessons nor do they try to teach any lessons. There is no moral to the story which might be okay if the story were interesting.
The story starts off well enough with an early hint of possible super-natural goings-on. Heathcliff, Catherine and Hindley as kids where Catherine and Heathcliff get along while Hindley hates him. That sets up the relationships that are formed as kids moving into early adulthood. This is where the book starts to fall down.
Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is tortuous (for them and the reader). We know there’s a strong connection form their childhood so this seems to from the background for why there are so crazy about each other at this point because there’s certainly nothing in their dialogue which indicates chemistry. Neither are very likable which is probably one of the reasons for them wanting to be together.
Catherine and Heathcliff are in other relationships which they don’t want to be in so they treat their partners horribly. This part makes sense but it doesn’t come across as an interesting emotional conflict. Instead, both Catherine and Heathcliff just come across as whiny and there is no great shame that it doesn’t work out for them.
Catherine and Heathcliff is supposed to be this great love story. I don’t care that it isn’t as I’m not one for a romance novel. With this being consider a classic, I’d thought there might have been more turmoil than there was.
Relationships across the book don’t come across very well especially Catherine and Heathcliff said to be one of the greatest literary couples. This isn’t even a case of the book not ageing well, the relationship doesn’t feel special and it isn’t special. This isn’t some ‘woke’ 21st century thinking that relationships shouldn’t be so full of controlling, manipulative behaviour, it should have been apparent years ago.
Everybody who dies in the book just seems to die randomly always from some untold illness so it is a very easy plot point to throw in. With all the hatred the characters have for each other, you’d think one of them would at least try and kill one of the others.
Physically, Catherine and Heathcliff’s story ends halfway through the book which brings me to the worst part- the story loops round again. We’ve seen Heathcliff grow up being the butt of the jokes, being abused and now that he’s an adult, he’s going to do the same thing. Once again, it makes sense but it doesn’t make for an interesting or entertaining story. I understand the story essentially loops with new characters to show how the cycle of abuse continues but it feels like if someone had shown you Passion of the Christ and then replayed the film to you straight after.
The trials and tribulations of love, abuse, controlling behaviour, favouritism towards one child or another is repeated for the next generation of children all going unchallenged. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was someone to challenge Heathcliff, even if it ended up being unsuccessful. If Heathcliff were to show signs of becoming a changed man but ultimately falling back to his old self, these things would have been improvements.
If you’re going to have a bleak book, you at least need some rays of hope even if those hopes get extinguished by some cruel twist of fate. In this book, it’s just bleakness, cruelness and an acceptance that this will always be the case very early on. After all this, the book would still be forgivable if it was actually going somewhere.
The supernatural elements remain ambiguous as to whether they are actually going on or not which is okay and I understand why it is done but the plot overall dawdles along, all related to Heathcliff in some way but not always. There is no great ending, no great realisation form characters at any point, no fine back and forth physical or emotional conflict- it’s all one way.
I hated Wuthering Heights. It’s not a love story, it’s not a story into the human psyche, it’s not a story of overcoming something, it’s not a story with an interesting overall plot and almost all of the characters are unlikable. Most of them are almost like comic book villains with their sense of power, wanting everybody else to suffer and their own self-importance. There is no redeeming feature for them and there is no defining message or story this book wishes to tell.