Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Solsbury Hill," by Susan M. Wyler

Usually, in my experience, sequels, prequels, and other takeoffs written by (much!) lesser known writers on a famous author’s novels are poorly, or at best merely competently, written. I won’t say they are ripoffs, because sometimes it is obvious they are written at least partly out of love of the great authors’ works. Although I feel this way, I have read my share of such follow-up novels, especially those related to Jane Austen’s great, great novels. And once in a while, I am surprised and impressed by such “tribute” novels that have real literary value in and of themselves. For example, as I wrote about on 3/15/14, Rachel Pastan’s novel “Alena,” loosely based on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel “Rebecca,” is beautifully written, actually better written than “Rebecca.” The other day I picked up at a library sale a novel titled “Solsbury Hill” (Riverhead, 2014), by Susan M. Wyler. The back cover states rather breathlessly that this novel is “inspired by” “Wuthering Heights,” and that the setting is a great house and estate on the Yorkshire moors that, supposedly, Emily Bronte and/or her fictional Heathcliff and Catherine (the book is a bit muddled in explaining this) lived in. The main character in “Solsbury Hill,” Eleanor, is a young woman in New York who is unexpectedly called to visit her long-out-of-touch and now dying aunt, Alice, at the estate in question, and finds out that when Alice dies, the place will be hers. This is one of many improbable plot turns in the novel: apparently Eleanor knew nothing about all of this until now. Eleanor also sees ghosts, is led to secret documents that tell us about a previously unknown lover of Emily Bronte’s, and eventually realizes a highly surprising and unlikely fact about Eleanor's own family. Meanwhile, she is torn between two good-looking, clever, adoring men; one is her longtime boyfriend in New York, Miles, and the other is the newly met Mead, who lives on the estate. This is somehow (again, in a rather muddled way) connected with a supposed long family history of women’s deciding between two men and generally making the wrong decision; we are meant to hope that Eleanor’s decision will finally reverse this trend. The writing in this novel is sometimes quite competent, and then suddenly veers into pure romance novel prose. The sudden changes can be quite disconcerting to the reader. I actually almost didn’t post about this book, thinking it was too close to the romance novel genre, and too exploitative of the putative connection with Bronte and “Wuthering Heights,” but then I thought it was interesting in the context of the genre of tributes to classic writers. However, I don’t recommend “Solsbury Hill” to anyone except perhaps Emily Bronte fans who are willing to overlook the coincidences, ghosts, and often clichéd writing because they simply want to feel close to the “Wuthering Heights” story.

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