Writers Write: My Favourite Book 20

Gabrielle Williams

Kate Bush made ‘Wuthering Heights’ required reading for every teenager worth her salt back in my day (it occurs to me that if I could get Kimbra and Goyte to write a song called ‘Beatle Meets Destiny’ or ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’ – it’d up my sales hugely. Note to self: call their agents).

I loved ‘Wuthering Heights’ and felt very grown-up reading it but think it was probably a bit too sophisticated for me back in those days. I couldn’t understand why everyone was so bad-tempered all the time, and it seemed to me that if there was a lot less hand-wringing, and a lot more slow-mo cartwheels and hair-flinging (a la Kate Bush ) everyone would be infinitely happier. Plus, I remember feeling ripped off that nowhere in the book does Cathy wail ‘Heathcliff, it’s me, it’s Cathy, I’ve come home, and I’m so co-o-o-old, let me in-a your window-o-o-o.’ It was a bit like discovering Humphrey Bogart never said, ‘Play it again Sam,’ and Clarke Gable never said, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’. Just didn’t seem right.

But I recently revisited it and was stunned by how completely and utterly dark Heathcliff was, and how brilliant the story was. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more monstrous character than Heathcliff, but the great thing about him – the clever thing that Emily Bronte did – was she made you feel very ambivalent about his blackness. His bad behavior was completely repellent, and he spent so much of his time and energy having his revenge, but you could sort of see exactly why he was like that. They say that authors were the early psychiatrists, and Emily Bronte provides a fascinating, complex, sophisticated character study in ‘Wuthering Heights’.

‘Wuthering Heights’ reminds me of a Nick Cave ballad inside the pages of a book. It’s one of the coolest books I’ve ever read, and the fact that it was written so long ago is just incredible.

And now … Kimbra? Gotye? My song?

Gabrielle’s latest book is ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’ (Penguin 2012).