You Review: Nelly Dean – Alison Case

Reviewed by Patty Friedrichs

nellydeanI must begin this review with a disclaimer: I hate Wuthering Heights; hate hate hate it.
It is full of people who make each other’s lives miserable for no other reason that I can see than that they live in a remote part of the world, during an idiotic part of history, and are a bit bored and stifled in the pursuit of that most insidious enemy: respectability.
The only two people who are far from respectable are Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, her adopted brother. Of course they fall in love, the great big dolts, because she likes to ride her pony out on the moors wearing odd clothes with her hair streaming behind her, and he, well, he’s a gypsy picked up from a Liverpool gutter. A match made in heaven. They fall in love, loads of people die, Heathcliff gets treated like a stable boy and switched a lot but keeps a straight face throughout, more people die, including Catherine, Kate Bush sings a high-pitched whingey song about it all while doing a naff dance and Heathcliff kills himself. Or something. Phew. Glad that’s over and done with.
I had to read this abysmally dull novel in school and again at university and repeatedly threw it against the wall both times. But for some reason it is a classic; it has never been out of print, been filmed numerous times – filmmakers seem to think this is a love story to be sighed over wistfully instead of a disturbing glimpse into the unhinged minds of two barely functioning nutcases – and girls (and boys?) love it. Love love love it. I have a feeling that I am misunderstanding the entire book. I must be reading it wrong. Maybe if I could come to it from another angle, I would finally understand what others see in it, and why it is so beloved?

Thank you, therefore, to Alison Case, who has written that different angle. In her book, the whole sorry tale is told again through the letters of Ellen “Nelly” Dean, the housekeeper, to Mr Lockwood, Heathcliff’s nosy tenant. Thank goodness for Nelly Dean: she is the only normal character in Wuthering Heights. Thank goodness she is the one telling the story. She is calm, rational, unflappable and trustworthy. Without her, Wuthering Heights would be even more of a Gothic nightmare.
Alison Case writes with a clarity and ease which make the characters and their story shine from the page. Her writing is gorgeous and she clearly loves Wuthering Heights very much. What she has accomplished with Nelly Dean is extraordinary and unthinkable: she finally makes me care about these characters. I read her book – which clocks in at a little under 500 pages – in a single weekend, without once feeling the urge to fling it against the wall. It is riveting, beautiful, tragic, exciting and heart stopping.
I feel a little ashamed now. But not enough to try to re-read Brontë. I think I shall watch an adaptation. That one with Tom Hardy in a preposterous wig perhaps.

An ebook of Nelly Dean can be found here and of Wuthering Heights here.

Patty FriedrichsABC You ReviewYou Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

More of Patty’s thoughts about books, and many other things besides, can be read on Twitter: @voltaires_vice.