Review by Emma Patchett
Branwell Bronte's Barber's Tale, by Chris Firth (East Coast Books, £7.99)
WUTHERING Heights is one of my favourite pieces of literature. So I was interested to read a book that claimed it was a must-read for all Bronte fans who wanted "to know the truth".
I have heard about the disputed authorship of the famous novel, and had never been convinced it was penned by any other than the named author, Branwell's sister Emily.
In this novel the case for alternative authorship is put forward from the perspective of a close friend of Branwell's, the barber and poet George McCraw.
The book features a letter sent by McCraw to the Halifax Courier in 1861, and uses this as a basis to delve into the barber's life in Victorian Bradford, the murky and polluted world of the city providing a suitably macabre backdrop for the events which unfold.
The reader follows McCraw as he relives his past and present in a quest to reveal the "true authorship of the work".
Although it provides the more discerning reader with a personal slant on a famous literary issue, the pleasure comes from the entertaining tale Firth weaves around it.
At one point, I admit, the book had me wavering on the question of authorship, but by the time I had got halfway through, the issue no longer seemed to be of importance.
The novel has lots of pace and is written in eloquent prose, gradually immersing the reader into the dirty underbelly of industrial Bradford in a tale of plot and intrigue that several times has the barber close to death.
Firth has created an engaging story that grips till the last.
'Dear Reader I read it: Branwell Bronte's Barber's tale by Chris Firth'
Well I have just finished 'Branwell Bronte''s Barbers Tale by Chris Firth. I really enjoyed this tale of intrigue, mystery and supposition. The authors description of the barbers habitat and the area sets the period in context. The detailed descriptions of the shop, the neighbourhood and the public houses are delightful - you can almost smell the place!
The story itself is very well researched and the character of MacCraw well rounded - pathetic and brave by turn. Crippled by the sudden death (murder) of his young wife the fellow 'Rhymer' can not come to terms with his loss which ages him rapidly as he spiralls downwards onto the slippery slope of the drinking dens of his youth. Reliving his love and the comradeship of the Rhymers (which of course include Branwell), the barber becomes intent in proving to the world that Branwell was the true author of 'Wuthering Heights'.
In this book Branwell comes across as loud, garrulous and extremely talented (as he was, so it's probably a good sketch of him). He is a very boisterous character, highly strung and imaginative. Whether this was true in real life we will never know - but it is indeed fun speculating. And this is what this book does very well - speculates.
I recommend this well written book, authentic in style as a rip roaring tale of intrigue, speculation and detail of the world the Bronte's inhabited. A lovely extra is MacCraw's recipes or remedies from his journal - which I found very interesting indeed and which again brought the story into its period context.