Book Review: Wuthering Heights

If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.

I had a lot of high hopes for this classic because it seems to be a lot of people’s favourites, and I’m a lover of 19th century Gothic writing. I’m not quite sure I would place this in my top spot.

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

My opening statement probably sounds quite disparaging, but I really do think this is a good classic. It feels particularly accessible because of the plot and writing style, so if you’re new to classics and you like spooky romances, this would probably be a good place to start.

That being said, I wasn’t blown away by Wuthering Heights. That might in part be because of my high expectations, but I was left feeling a bit disappointed.

The story itself was quite interesting, and I think if you go into it playing less attention to it as a romance you’ll get a lot more out of the book. There are a lot of different themes and ideas going on that get quite lost if all you focus on is the central characters and their relationship to one another.

I did really like the darkness of this book, and the fact it doesn’t shy away from the bad parts of life and human nature. Sometimes reading classics can feel like a very idealised version of life, but Brontë manages to capture negative experiences in a way that is realistic and yet intriguing.

The characters for me are where my disappointment largely lies. I wasn’t really invested in any of them, and so whilst I could pass judgement based on the morality of their actions i didn’t really care what happened to them. Not to say that they’re not well-written, but something just didn’t click for me.

I’m going to discuss the book in more specific detail, so if you don’t want to see any spoilers scroll to the bottom of this review to find my rating and concluding thoughts.

In-Depth Thoughts (Spoilers!)

As I said above, I really don’t want to be too down on this book, because it is popular for a reason. I enjoyed Bronte’s writing a lot, and I think this is a great example of classics addressing the same topics and classes of people whilst being accessible to a modern reader. Her descriptions of the landscape and spaces that the characters inhabit were very vivid and captured the Gothic feeling of the novel perfectly. I think the scene she creates helps to set the bleak and tumultuous tone that permeates the story, and reinforces the atmosphere of isolation.

In terms of the plot itself, I did find it slightly anti-climactic. I feel quite indifferent to the narrative choice of having Heathcliff and Catherine’s history being relayed to Lockwood by Nelly, and him recording it in his journal alongside his own narrative. I think it served its purpose of showing how interlinked the characters were and it did keep the mystery of what happened suspended for longer, but it did just seem like a convenient way to explain how the story was coming to be told. The main events of the novel are undeniably dramatic, covering everything from cross-generational child abuse, violence, romantic betrayal, impossible desires and insanity. For whatever reason, though, the full force of these never really connected with me. Maybe that’s because I’ve read books that cover similar topics that are far more extreme, or maybe I just never invested in the characters beyond a basic moral judgement.

Following the transition from Heathcliff being welcomed as an orphan into the Earnshaw’s home, to his suffering under Hindley due to jealousy that his late father came to prefer an orphan over him, to his running away after Catherine’s engagement definitely makes for an interesting but tragic character development. I definitely liked the fact that Bronte avoided creating a stereotypical villain who is evil for no reason, but rather explained a history of abuse and betrayal that corrupted him. I think what was missing for me from the characters of Wuthering Heights was a slither more of humanity and warmth. I know the focus on abuse and violence means that this coldness was appropriate, but I felt like there was a lack of a spectrum. Catherine was forced to make choices that went against her feelings, but she also felt unnecessarily cruel and cold throughout the novel. Her relationship with Heathcliff had far less high stakes because the passion they had for each other felt unrealistic considering their wider characters. That is probably just down to a personal preference, and I do think that after studying the book more I could change my perspective on this.

I did quite like how Linton and Young Catherine’s relationship mirrored their parents, but how the situation was reversed: whilst Catherine felt forced not to marry Heathcliff, Young Catherine is trapped and forced to marry Linton. I think this is one of my favourite aspects of the novel because of the clever aligning and reversing of each generation’s fates. Whilst Catherine was forced to leave Wuthering Heights, Young Catherine is forced to stay there with Heathcliff. In this sense, not only does Catherine haunt the space in which he lives in his mind and spectral visits, but also physical in Young Catherine’s DNA.

For me, Heathcliff’s decline into insanity and his death on the moors wasn’t the best end to the novel. I felt like Bronte didn’t want to full commit to a supernatural element to her story, and this ambiguity really diffused the tension that had been created. For such a prominent and emotional character, I would have expected a few more dramatics. I did like the way he died though, as it did reinforce their relationship for me.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Overall, I think this just wasn’t the book for me. It is partially my fault, because I went in with certain expectations that left me disappointed. I do think this is a great classic for people to read, especially if you enjoy Gothic-style narratives or if you want something that’s a bit more accessible in terms of writing style and language.

If anyone loves this book and has anything that might make me understand or connect with this book more, please do let me know in the comments! I really want to be proved wrong on this one.

I’m rating Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte as 3 stars.



War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Oh boy, the big one. I mentioned that I’d read this book in my first post ‘About the Blog (and Me)’, and of course I had to give it a review. You have to make full use of the bragging rights that reading this book gives you.

Because of the long nature of this book, I’m not going to structure this review the same as I have previously. The novel is decently familiar to public knowledge, and the title is very self explanatory- this book literally switches between times of war and peace in Russia.

Instead, I think a more productive and entertaining way to talk about War and Peace is to break it down into my feelings about the plot and characters, before giving my overall thoughts and concluding with my rating.


So, as I said before, the title really does give you the most simple overview of the plot. To be fair, although the 1200-odd pages seem excessive, a lot happens on this novel, and I never felt like Tolstoy was doing too much unnecessary padding.

I did enjoy the peace portions of the novel more than the war portions, largely because I kept getting confused with characters’ names (more on that later), which was made worse in the fast paced moments of conflict and really limited their intensity. That’s probably also a personal preference because I’ve read more books set in a domestic setting than those centred around wars. Having said that, I am a self-professed history nerd, so I particularly enjoyed the insight into the politics and tactics of the war, as well as the portrayal of Napoleon.

At times, War and Peace had almost the same feel as a Jane Austen novel, as you follow the members of polite society at different dinner parties and in their homes. These were actually welcomed breaks from the action, almost as if Tolstoy had used them to pace his readers and allow them to process what had happened in the more intense sections before delivering them with another one to dissect and digest.

The romances were also quite developed and complex; it didn’t feel like people were getting married off just so Tolstoy could create a new set of alliances to negotiate. Natasha’s entanglements were entertaining and I felt real sympathy for her in trying to understand her feelings and manage the impact they had on her social circle at such a young age. The links between the Rostov children early on in the book and how these grow more complex as they grow older and go their separate ways adds real depth to the more domestic parts of the book, and shows how moments of peace can be just as damaging and impactful on society as war.

If you want a book that has a lot of war, battles, duelling and ambition, then Tolstoy’s novel will certainly satisfy you. But I think the magic of the book lies in the fact that this is balanced by a strong focus on the domestic, familial and social alliances and relationships, courtship, growing up, polite society and gossip.


My first thought about the characters in War and Peace is that I never truly knew who everyone was. About 75% of the way through the book, I gave up trying to remember exactly how everyone was linked and just pushed through understanding as much as I could. Not only are there an insane number of characters (559 as Google informs me), but they all have similar names that are too Russian to be familiar to me. Not only this, but Tolstoy frequently gives characters nicknames or changes the spelling of their name with little to no warning. My version of the text had a list of all the names that the characters were known by, and I was still confused.

Other than that though, I would say most of the main characters were well-developed. Of all the families I found the Rostov’s the most interesting and compelling (and personally I thought Natasha was as enchanting as Tolstoy described her), but there wasn’t really a group who I dreaded reading about.

Of course when you look at the book from a modern day perspective, a lot of the men are very traditionally masculine (military men, intellects, powerful and assertive) and the women are very traditionally feminine (beautiful, submissive to their fathers and lovers, enchanting and domestic). But I do think that that’s the case for most classics, and like most classics there are some characters that push these boundaries. It’s not the worst example of gender stereotypes that I’ve read, put it that way.

Overall, I feel like Tolstoy created a realistic society for his book to focus on, and I think that’s really impressive. What’s more, although not all the characters were likeable (some of the military generals were horrendous), they were well-crafted and enjoyable to read.

Overall Thoughts

Whilst the book didn’t feel like it had lots of unnecessary parts, it still dragged and was a chore to finish. It’s not an easy read, and this effort to remember all the characters and events did become tiring the more I read.

I was also surprised at how much French was in the book; although I knew it was a courtly language and the book focuses on Russia’s wars with France, I didn’t anticipate parts of the book to be written in French. My version had easily accessible translations, but this made the book harder to read too.

Overall, though, I have to say that for all the difficulties I had with War and Peace, I do understand why it’s such an infamous classic. It is an excellent piece of work, and I was surprised at how much I genuinely enjoyed it. It might sound pretentious and like a not-so-humble brag, but I am glad I read Tolstoy’s novel.

After careful consideration, I’ve decided that I would rate Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a 3.5. Do take into mind that if I wasn’t taking the reputation and the cultural impact of this book, I’d probably be dropping my rating to 3 stars.

3.5 stars

Pine by Francine Toon

Sharlene Teo compares Toon’s work to those by Shirley Jackson and Gillian Flynn. I’d like to say that this book missed that mark, but I’m not even entirely sure that that’s the mark she was trying to hit.

Plot Overview and Overall Thoughts (Spoiler Free)

Before talking in depth about how I felt about this book, I think it’s helpful to read the blurb:

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

In the shadow of the Highland forest, Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.

Aside from the beautiful illustration on the cover (which I’ve inserted at the top of this review), this description really compelled me to buy this book. I’ve read a fair amount of Gothic stories, both traditional and modern, and it’s a genre that’s a personal favourite of mine.

Although I suggested that Teo’s comparison between Shirley Jackson and Francine Toon was far-fetched, one similarity I would draw out is the creation of an insular, suffocating environment that helps to create the creepy atmosphere of the novel. As the blurb mentions, the claustrophobia of the small Highland town that these characters live in is perfectly captured by Toon, and is probably what I found most compelling about this book. There really is a feeling that everyone is watching Lauren as she tries to uncover the truth about what happened to her mother, which strengthens the crime and Gothic aspects of this book.

Without going too in-depth and giving away the plot of the book, I would say that going into it expecting a big mystery and reveal is probably going to leave you disappointed. The book isn’t bad, by a long stretch (it won the 2020 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the year), but the more other-worldly aspects which hint to the supernatural never quite solidify beyond a pasting suggestion. Maybe it’s just a misleading blurb, maybe Toon didn’t quite capture this as well as she’d hoped.

If you haven’t read Pine and you don’t want to see any spoilers, scroll down to the bottom of this review to see my rating and final concluding thoughts.

In-depth Review (Spoilers)

The characters are pretty well-written, with Lauren and Niall in particular being well-developed and complex. Niall is purposefully hard to like, with his drinking and partial neglect of Lauren really adds to her isolation. Despite this, you do feel some sympathy for him as a man who lost his wife and doesn’t really know how to cope with his growing daughter, misguidedly hiding information from her in the hopes of keeping her protected from harsh reality. At times I found myself getting frustrated with Lauren, but I think that’s largely because I kept forgetting how young she’s meant to be, and actually I think Toon captured the confusion that most people feel when they start to transition from child to young adult. Peripheral characters such as Diane and Ann-Marie emphasised this struggle by being typical teenage girls who Lauren looked up to and was envious of, their own experiences further demonstrating just how isolated the small town is. They are developed enough that I felt genuine concern when Ann-Marie went missing, which I think is a success for Toon considering how minor their role in the story was before that point.

Beyond the main characters, the figure of Lauren’s mum, Christine, haunts the novel, as she appears in an unknown form to seemingly try and deliver a message to her surviving family. She does bring a supernatural element to the novel, with her hair and teeth falling out and no-one being able to remember seeing her besides Lauren, but beyond being creepy and unsettling there isn’t really a feeling that she would hurt anyone, which I think is what makes ghosts scary. If you encounter a ghost who doesn’t want to hurt you, I’m not sure how frightened you would be. Especially if that ghost is your missing mother.

Speaking of the supernatural elements of the book, a lot of them felt like they were thrown in there in an effort to make the plot more Gothic. Christine’s use of crystals and spells in her life is touched on, and used to provide a suggested explanation for how she is able to appear to Lauren despite being presumed dead, but it never really leads anywhere beyond Lauren meeting her old friend who can also remember seeing Christine. Lauren’s own attempts to participate in witchy activities reads more as a childish belief in other worldly things and an effort to feel some kind of closeness and similarity to her mother. It never feels like these spells or tarot cards will truly help Lauren find her mother, and the curse she places on her school bullies can’t be taken as having a serious impact on the events of the novel. Maybe the point of these things are to demonstrate how childish and helpless Lauren is, and if this was Toon’s intention then they fulfill their purpose. Unfortunately, this is all they really do.

Speaking of Lauren’s school bullies, there are a lot of side plots and details that feel unnecessary and seem to be included just so no loose ends have to be explained away at the end. It’s Maisie, the main bully, who finds Ann-Marie’s hat when she’s missing, rather than having an unnamed character do so. Lauren being bullied does help her to feel more isolated and I guess adds a bit of a threatening edge to her life, but I think the book would’ve worked just as well without her. A side plot that I did like was Niall playing in the band with Sandy, as it gives the reader a really unsettling conflict between this helping Niall to begin to heal and get back to normal after Christine’s disappearance, and the later knowledge that he is the one who killed her.

I think my main disappointment with Pine was how predictable the outcome was. From the first few pages when Lauren and Niall pick up the woman and take care of her in the house, it’s easy to guess that it’s at least some version of her missing mum, whether it be a ghost, alive, a conjured memory, reanimated corpse etc. As the plot progresses and Lauren hears the stories about a man in the woods, it becomes pretty clear that at some point this will link into her mother’s disappearance. It was a bit of a twist that it was Sandy who killed Christine, but Ann-Marie vanishing into the woods did little to convince me that it potentially could have been Niall beyond a slight doubt. When you consider that the crime is not a big mystery and the Gothic elements are unsettling but not quite threatening, then what you are really left with is a book that builds a creepy atmosphere but fails to create a plot that fulfills this at its conclusion. The most danger Lauren is ever in is when she is lost in the woods looking for Ann-Marie, and even that plays out in a single chapter.

The main problem with this book for me is how few pages are devoted to solving the actual mystery of the crime. I think this book could have done with being a hundred or two pages longer, maybe using a dual-perspective so we could’ve seen Ann-Marie’s journey through the woods ourselves, rather than hearing her recount the ordeal after-the-fact when we already know she’s safe. As I’ve said, I think Toon’s creation of the Highland setting was really effective and a stand out example of how to set a creepy, insular and unsettling atmosphere in a Gothic crime novel such as Pine, so I don’t think time should have been taken away from this in the early parts of the novel. Perhaps this was a problem of trying to conform with the conventional length of popular fiction, and it ended up compromising the overall effectiveness of the book. Regardless of why, the majority of the book is devoted to Lauren’s everyday life, occasionally having a weird visit from her mother and discovering more about her disappearance and suspicious goings on in the town. I would say enough time is given to Ann-Marie’s disappearance that it carries intensity and creates genuine concern for the character’s safety, but once she is found the reveal of how Christine died is rushed within a page or so, almost brushed over like an insignificant detail.

Final Thoughts

Overall, then, I would say that Pine is an okay book. It’s enjoyable, and I don’t think you’d find it a waste of time. It’s not too long (I think I read it in two sittings), and it does have a really compelling unsettling atmosphere and a good crime plot. I think going into this book expecting a plot that gives great importance and a big pay off to supernatural Gothic elements would leave you feeling disappointed though.


3 Stars