Catherine, Her Book – John Wheatcroft

I really think you should read “Wuthering Heights” before you give this book a try. It will make a lot more sense if you do.

“Sometimes I lay in the loft of the barn. Sometimes I lay in the dimple of the shade. Sometimes I lay in the fairy cave under Penistone Crags. Sometimes I lay, gasping for breath, under the black water of the pool at the bottom of the gorge. I was always alone, wanting Heathcliff.”

“Often I burned and shivered together, fire within, wind without.”

This is one of the books I bought a couple of months ago at a library sale. I’ve been working my way through the pile, saving this one like a fine morsel to be tasted and enjoyed later. When that time came I devoured it in a few days, pacing myself even though I wanted to rush through the story like the storm on a summer night. The old fashioned writing style (which I love and crave every now and then) called for a slowing down of my reading, something I was reluctant to do.

At a little under 200 pages, the book tells about a segment from Catherine Earnshaw’s life after she marries Edgar Linton and moves to Thrushcross Grange. She’s not a happy bride, even if Edgar appears to be the perfect husband. She longs for Heathcliff and the days they spent together. A love like theirs, burning with an unquenchable fire, cannot allow one to live a domestic life, apart from the other. In an attempt to find something to fill her days with and banish the demons that torment her, Catherine starts transcribing her old diary, pages and pages of scribbling jotted down in the margins of old books. It’s her story, detailing her relationship with Heathcliff , and the bond they developed over the years.

Who was Nelly, the trusted servant at the Wuthering Heights, and why is Mr Earnshaw so fond of her and Heathcliff while barely acknowledging his daughter Catherine and son Hindley? And why does he allow Joseph, who’s little more than a servant, to constantly preach about the wrath of God while verbally abusing the young children at every opportunity?

Catherine, who has an astute sense of observation, stumbles upon and sometimes only guesses at the mysteries surrounding the Earnshaw family – the tomb on the family estate, a tiny physical resemblance, an accidental witnessing of a lovers’ meeting. Wheatcroft skillfully fills in some of the gaps that bring more closure to the story in “Wuthering Heights”. The biggest mystery, however, concerning Heathcliff’s birth and parentage, is at best suspected but never confirmed. Heathcliff himself remains a secluded character, viewed mostly through Catherine’s eyes. Their relationship is tumultuous, passionate and dramatic. Sexuality plays a significant role and some passages are quite graphic. While not as intricate in action as “Wuthering Heights”, the story provides plenty of drama and anguish.

Not one to give up on a book because of bad reviews, I didn’t even check for the Goodreads rating first. When I did, I was surprised to see the book didn’t get much love. But that’s ok, it got plenty from me. I thought Wheatcroft managed to write a sequel that answers plenty of questions while at the same time leaving some things shrouded in mystery. Where did Heathcliff go during the 3 years he was away from Wuthering Height? Who were his parents? How did he become rich? And why, in the name of love, didn’t he just declare his feelings for Catherine and marry her? Actually I may know the answer to that last question if Catherine’s suspicions prove right. But that’s quite a big “if” and I’m not entirely convinced. Like in “Wuthering Heights”, there are patterns to this narrative as well. It was enough to partially satisfy my craving for answers but not quite enough to lay it all in the open. If you’re a fan of “Wuthering Height”s and would like to revisit your favorite characters, give this book a try.

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I was curious to find out more about the author. John Wheatcroft (I love this perfect old fashioned name) was born 92 years ago today. What a coincidence that I finished writing this review on his birthday! I would have liked to write to him and tell him how much I enjoyed his book but I was late by a few months. He died in March this year. He was an American writer and teacher who served in World War II. “Catherine, Her Book”, was published in 1983 but Wheatcroft’s work has started appearing in print since 1967 – “Prodigal Son” – and the most recent, “The Portrait of a Lover”, in 2011.

My rating 5/5 stars
Read in July 2017

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6 Responses to Catherine, Her Book – John Wheatcroft

  1. Brian Joseph says:

    I recently read Wuthering Heights for the first time. I am of two minds regarding a book like this. Based on your commentary it answered a series of fascinating questions in a satisfying way. On the other hand perhaps those questions are better off not answered and the story left as Bronte intended it to be. With all that, I am sure that I would enjoy this if I read it.

    Superb review.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      I get your point. Still, I feel the author hasn’t messed up the original story, only made it more obvious while still leaving some mysteries unsolved. I’m surprised this book isn’t more well known, to be honest.

  2. Deb Atwood says:

    In general, I agree with Brian. I’m not usually a fan of a writer piggy-backing on another’s work. I never read March by Geraldine Brooks, for instance, even though I love her writing.

    Still, you make a good case for this book in your excellent review. That is so cool that you wrote this on Wheatcroft’s birthday! His wonderfully old-fashioned name sounds like one that would be right at home in Wuthering Heights.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Deb,
      I agree, in most cases it doesn’t go well, but because I love “Wuthering Heights” so much I was curious. And I would read more sequels if I could find them, because this is how I keep the story alive. Does it make sense? It’s my romantic side talking…besides, now I remember, I’ve read another Wuthering Heights sequel last year and liked that one too, but not as much as this. If I felt the author was in any way piggy-backing on the original I would have dismissed it as a poor attempt but that was not the case here.

      I was never a fan of “Little Women” (too cute and proper for my taste) but now you’ve made me curious. Maybe I’ll like “March” better. 🙂

  3. This sounds interesting but I haven’t read ‘Wuthering Heights’, and I intend to rectify that oversight soon. 🙂

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