Case’s debut novel is a leisurely paced, highly ambitious, and somewhat overlong work based on Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights. The housekeeper Nelly Dean retells the popular saga in a lengthy, chatty letter addressed to Mr. Lockwood, who briefly rented the nearby Thrushcross Grange estate before leaving for Italy and later London. Fourteen-year-old Nelly lives with the affluent Earnshaws at Wuthering Heights and plays with their children, Hindley and Cathy, when the “queer, filthy” orphan lad Heathcliff is adopted into the family. After Mr. Earnshaw expels Nelly for her dereliction of duty, her mother, Mary, intercedes to have her rehired as a paid house servant and rescues her from the attacks of her violent father, Tom. As the years pass, Nelly grows more intertwined with the Earnshaws’ dysfunctional household, through her pregnancy with Hindley, his empty promise to marry her, and her miscarriage. Fortunately, she befriends her family doctor’s son, the level-headed Bodkin, who sagely says to her that “you are not obliged to keep working here.” Passionate fans of Brontë’s masterpiece will find much to admire in Case’s richly textured novel, while casual readers may find the pace too plodding and the gold-hearted Nelly too accommodating. (Feb.)
The inhabitants of Wuthering Heights are reborn in this new view of the Brontë
classic. Instead of the gothic drama and passion of Brontë, Case’s first novel provides an emotionally balanced account, filling in some gaps and featuring strong, smart Nelly, who is her own woman despite living by the mores of her time. A fast-moving pleasure, this novel is a likely draw for book clubs and a must for Brontë fans.
Booklist (starred review)
As she recasts her story, Nelly fills gaps in the original and draws a portrait of her own life of caretaking and sacrifice.
The New York Times Book Review
Whether you've read
Wuthering Heights a hundred times or never picked it up, you are going to like this book. Nelly's story is heartbreaking and courageous and simply lovely.
A gripping piece of literature that tells the story of Wuthering Heights through the eyes of the Earnshaw family's youngest servant.
[An] enthralling first novel. Reading Nelly Dean is like having a long, romantic, tempestuous and thrilling dream. I did not want this dream to end.
Case’s talents and imagination are well on display in her homage to the gothic classic. Compelling, exciting, and satisfying.
Alison Case has cracked open
Wuthering Heights and inserted into the gaps her own richly imagined story. In doing so she manages to pay homage to Emily Brönte without copying her. I never thought I needed more Wuthering Heights. Now I wonder how I could have been satisfied with only the original telling.
Case knows her Brontës. This audacious novel talks to all three sisters’ books. But there’s nothing mustily lit-critical about it. It’s a page-turner, about the things we do to people we love and the secrets and lies that corrode us, told in sinewy, visceral prose. It also has the makings of a feminist classic.
This engrossing story of loyalty, love and sacrifice is so good it deserves to be a classic in its own right
This novel rips the original novel open to fill in all the gaps. Case burrows into the character’s psyches to reveal a further layer of family secrets.
Case propels us headlong into the gripping tale of familial turmoil and thwarted passion and created a world so real, so grounded in visceral detail, that no prior knowledge of the Brontë classic is required. However I suspect
Nelly Dean will entice many (including this reviewer) to reread the original, with fresh and knowing eyes.
Debut author Case crafts a masterly reimagining of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights by casting Nelly Dean, the housekeeper, as the central character, with Heathcliff and Cathy in peripheral roles. Nelly grows up with the Earnshaw children, practically a member of the family, until the master brings home young Heathcliff, pushing Nelly onto the path of dedicated servant to the only family she has ever wanted. Like Brontë's novel, Nelly's story is full of passion, violence, betrayal, revenge, and especially suffering as she endures the thoughtless cruelty of the gentry she serves. To see the familiar characters of this classic through the eyes of Nelly, who knows all their fears and faults so well, is an eye-opening experience. But is she a reliable narrator, given prejudices engendered by her callous treatment at the hands of those she loves? VERDICT Case's skilled reworking of Brontë's masterpiece is a fabulous companion to the original as well as a wonderful stand-alone read. Brontë fans and readers who delight in literary fiction fashioned as 19th-century novels will eagerly snap up this book—and may be tempted to reread Wuthering Heights just for the pleasure of comparing the two novels. Perfect for book clubs.—Barbara Clark-Greene, Groton P.L., CT
Housekeeper Nelly Dean tells a multigenerational saga of wild weather and impossible love at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Wait, didn't Emily Brontë already write that book? Most retellings of Great Novels at least change the narrator. Not this one: it's still the down-to-earth Nelly, still bending the ear of Mr. Lockwood, this time in a letter explaining that she left out a few things the first time around. Once you get past the artificiality and hubris of the setup and an awkward first chapter or two, though, you'll find both an interesting critique of Wuthering Heights and an absorbing, convincing, and historically sensitive novel. In this version, Case's debut, Nelly has relatively little time for Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw, the star-crossed lovers of the original. Instead, it's her own story that absorbs her: her childhood at the Heights, her position as something between a servant and a child of the house, her education, the tragic passion that grows between her and Cathy's drunken brother, Hareton, and the burden that falls on her—as the only sober, intelligent, and capable member of the household—to keep the Earnshaw family from falling into ruin. Case explores every permutation of pregnancy and motherhood, populating Nelly's story with illegitimate, abandoned, miscarried, adopted, and aborted babies and fetuses. Her central and final revelation—about the shared parentage of important characters—is an interesting gloss on the original story, but she hints about it so strongly at the start that by the end it's no surprise. Themes of violence, drunkenness, incest, and the supernatural evoke Emily Brontë—as you'd expect in a book that borrows its outline and setting from hers—but Nelly's combination of competence and passionate self-restraint can seem more like something out of a novel by her sister Charlotte. Although its obvious audience is Brontë lovers, this well-written historical novel brings enough depth and new material to stand on its own.