Author: Michael Stewart
Publisher: HQ Fiction
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
I loved Wuthering Heights as a teen, it has had multiple reads and I even gave it a reread a couple of years back when I read a newly released companion novel to the original, even on my last read I loved the story. I always try to check out the books that take me back to the moors around Wuthering Heights and so I have read a couple of stories about Heathcliff as well as Nelly Dean.
It is for this reason that I knew, as soon as I saw the upcoming release, that we needed to read Ill Will for book club and I hoped that there would be a lot of Cathy and Heathcliff fans in our club.
Ill Will is published in 2018, two centuries since the birth of Emily Bronte, a timely coincidence some might say. Michael Stewart fell in love with Cathy and Heathcliff through the lyrics of Kate Bush’s 1978 hit Wuthering Heights, a song which I must confess I also love, as a seven year old boy. Yeas later he read the book and his curiosity deepened.
As a lover of Wuthering Heights I was intrigued to see what a modern lover of the story would do with it and I’m not quite settled on what I thought. I have only just finished the book and wanted to start getting my thoughts down while they are fresh.
It is always a risky business to take classic characters who have endured for over a century and start to rewrite their story from a modern viewpoint, because regardless of how good you are there is a big difference between a Victorian era classic and a book written in the 21st century about Victorian times. Michael Stewart has taken his love of this story and his unanswered questions and tackled the three years that Heathcliff was missing from Wuthering Heights; he is not the first modern author to try and fill in the gaps and he probably won’t be the last. I have read a couple of other books focused on the missing years and it was a long time ago so I don’t actually remember anything about them but it would be interesting to read them all one after the other and compare notes on how each of the authors thought he spent his time.
The storytelling and the plot came across as authentic and slid themselves into the gap missing from the middle of Wuthering Heights but the language certainly did not. I think if you did a find and count for the dreaded C word in this book you would be staggered by the total, I don’t have an issue with the word and there are times that it really just fits in the context it’s used but I didn’t feel that way with it’s use in Ill Will. I’m not sure what constituted a nasty epithet in 1780 and chances are I never will but it doesn’t feel authentic to me that they would have been the F and C words that we use today.
Another issue I had with Ill Will is that in his remembrances Heathcliff thinks a lot of his time at Wuthering Heights and so he talks of those memories, and in the retelling we are given a lot more detail than we ever had from Wuthering Heights. It cast his relationship with Cathy into a new light.
Ill Will begins as Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights after overhearing a snippet of conversation that left him feeling shamed and humiliated. He is determined to make something of himself and return to wreak revenge on those who wronged him. The story is all told by Heathcliff and it’s like he’s telling the story to Cathy.
I was really looking forward to this read, filling in the gaps and hearing another perspective on what might have happened in the time that Heathcliff was gone, what had changed and molded him into the cruel tyrant that returned in 1783. My anticipation and excitement may have hampered me because I found the first half of the book to be a very hard slog. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the storyline and the plot but I just found it hard to really engage; I do think a part of that was that I found the language very jarring and it messed with the flow for me.
Heathcliff is lost and lonely, his love and only ally has spurned him for the wealthy Edgar Linton and he is being eaten up by rage and a need for revenge. He travels across the moors, largely making it up as he goes along. He is headed in the general direction of Liverpool because that’s where he came from and he wants to try and discover his origins.
We always heard Heathcliff described as dark skinned with dark hair and eyes, and as a gypsy, so I had an image of him in my head that didn’t match with the picture painted by Stewart. This is really quite a small thing and not a huge issue, it just took some getting my head around after having one picture in my head for 25 years and having to rethink that.
Heathcliff changes dramatically in his travel across the country looking for answers. He meets Emily while working on a farm and rescues her from a whipping, determined that he will leave her safe in the next town when they have outrun the trouble. Emily is a little enigmatic; she’s quite young but circumstances have forced her to age beyond her years and it’s quite easy to lose sight of her age. In the end Heathcliff can’t leave her behind and the two become partners in all manner of money making schemes.
Even with this highly detailed and sometimes tedious account of Heathcliff’s lost years we are left with quite a big chunk of time unaccounted for. This gives us quite a lot of detail on the first year or so that he’s gone but doesn’t really touch on his education.
Overall I did enjoy Ill Will. It takes Heathcliff and Emily on an interesting adventure across the country and furnishes Heathcliff with more answers than he bargained for. I would definitely recommend it… with a language warning. Stewart did a pretty admirable job of staying true to the original but he elaborated on a little more than I thought was strictly necessary.
I am a fan of Wuthering Heights and I was intrigued by Ill Will, having said that I am sure there are people who aren’t familiar with the characters or the story and I’m sure they will also enjoy the story, as a standalone book.
The sense of atmosphere is retained and I feel that Ill Will fits in relatively well with the original.