Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Just Finished Reading ... Catherine by April Lindner
by April Lindner
Published by Little, Brown/Poppy
on January 2, 2013
My summary: Chelsea always thought that her mother Catherine died after a sudden illness. At seventeen, she discovers a letter written by her mother, a letter explaining why Catherine left her husband and young daughter. Chelsea, determined to find out who her mother was and what happened to her, heads to Manhattan, where the letter was mailed, and takes a trip into her mother's past. She'll meet Hence, a once-famous musician, and learn about the passionate, turbulent love affair between him and Catherine.
My take: As books by the Brontë sisters go, I always preferred Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights. Plain Jane and her noble Rochester always seemed so much more appealing than spoiled, impetuous Cathy and moody, vengeful Heathcliff. That said (and after reading what feels like a hundred Jane Eyre retellings) I've now decided that Bella Swan might have been right -- Wuthering Heights is actually much better suited to a YA retelling than Jane Eyre. When you think about it, Rochester has so much baggage, what with the crazy ex-wife and his ward. Then there's that somewhat squicky age difference between the two of them. In contrast, Cathy and Heathcliff are so angst-ridden, so well-matched in their tempestuousness -- just a couple of crazy kids in love.
Catherine is a clever updating of Wuthering Heights for a 21st century YA audience. While die-hard Wuthering Heights fans might find the revamp a little tame, I really enjoyed it.
Narrative structure: At first, I was a little unsure about this aspect of Catherine. Chelsea's account of her investigation into her mother takes place in the present. Her narrative alternates with Catherine's love story, which presumably takes place in the 1990s. Then I remembered that Wuthering Heights also uses a frame narrative. A man rents a house on the moors of England, meets his mysterious landlord, Heathcliff, and is told the story of Heathcliff and Catherine by a housekeeper, Nelly Dean. In light of this, I decided that the flashback-flashforward storytelling actually made sense. Since Chelsea's story was the unraveling of an old mystery, and Catherine's narrative was the evolution of a new love affair, they balanced each other out nicely.
Characters: Most of the central characters carry over. Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff are renamed Catherine Eversole and Hence. (Yeah, I wasn't thrilled about his new name, but I got used to it.) In the original book, Cathy's daughter is also Catherine. It made sense to rename her ... but after the Chelsea Hotel? Maybe. Catherine's father and brother reprise their roles in the new story, though brother Hindley has (thankfully) been renamed Quentin. The characters in Catherine do feel a little toned-down from the original, which didn't bother me, though now I'm ready to read a really out-there Catherine and Heathcliff as Sid and Nancy kind of retelling too.
Heathcliff's ethnicity: In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is described as a "Lascar"(which, according to Wikipedia, is a sailor or militiaman from the Indian subcontinent) and a "dark-skinned Gypsy," though, as an orphan, he may not know his heritage. In Catherine, Hence is described by Catherine as having "dark eyes, glossy hair, skin like coffee with extra cream." Quentin, who is jealous of Hence and his relationship with Catherine and their father, insults Hence with a racial slur.
Mystery: While Wuthering Heights is not a mystery, I think the addition of Catherine's disappearance in this retelling is a plus. Not only does it give Chelsea the impetus to investigate her mother's past with Hence, it does fits the original story, which includes ghosts and the supernatural. There was a bit too much information imparted by characters using Google for my taste (I'm pretty sure I also remember this problem also in Jane) and only a few viable suspects in Catherine's disappearance, but I still enjoyed watching Chelsea try to figure the whole thing out. I also really loved the fact that in Catherine, what drives Catherine and Hence apart isn't some kind of nutty love-hate thing, but just reality.
The Setting: Wuthering Heights takes place on the Yorkshire moors, and the setting is tied in to the themes of the book. The untamed danger of the moors -- a place that is bleak and forbidding in winter, yet blooms to life in the spring and summer -- echoes the tempestuous relationship of Cathy and Heathcliff. As someone who lived and went to school in the East Village in the 1990s, I was beyond excited that Catherine used the Lower East Side for its setting. While Catherine does make reference to musicians real and imaginary and talk a little bit about the CBGB-inspired club that Catherine and Quentin's father owns, I felt the setting was both underused and a little vague. But that could also be because it's a setting that's so familiar to me. And the cover -- what? Is that the Flatiron building? If so, that is nowhere near the Bowery.
The ending: No, I'm not going to tell you what it was, but to me, it did fit the spirit of the original story.
Interested? I'm giving Catherine away in Hot Off the Presses this week -- come over and enter to win this or several other January YA releases!