Review and Author Interview – Wuthering Nights by I.J. Miller (and Emily Brontë)

Cover image, Wuthering Nights by Emily Bronte and I.J. Miller

The blurb, courtesy of the publisher:

Romantics everywhere have been enthralled by Emily Bronte’s classic novel of the tragic love between beautiful, spirited Catherine Earnshaw and dark, brooding Heathcliff. The restrained desire between these two star-crossed lovers has always smoldered on the page. And now it ignites into an uncontrollable blaze. In WUTHERING NIGHTS (Grand Central Publishing; On-Sale: January 29, 2013; $3.99; ISBN: 978-1-455-57301-1), writer I.J. Miller reimagines this timeless story to reveal the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff—in all its forbidden glory.

Interview with I.J. Miller

Wuthering Nights is an interesting take on a classic book, and there is plenty of fodder for discussion.  I am very pleased and thankful that I.J. Miller agreed to participate in an author interview.

1.  RwA: Who is the target audience for this book, readers familiar with Wuthering Heights or readers just discovering that story?
Miller: WUTHERING NIGHTS targets fans of the original as well as those looking for an intense erotic romance.  Those familiar with Bronte’s Wuthering Heights will hopefully appreciate the effort put in to stay true to the original language, themes, and characters, but will understand the nuances of this interpretation and how the plot was altered or developed to make the erotic scenes organic and heighten the romance.  For both old and new fans it is a novel with more layers peeled back, new dimensions added, that make it a story that stands on its own, even if one never read the original.
 
2.  RwA: Why did you choose Wuthering Heights as the background material for your erotic novel?
Miller: It’s a natural choice. Since it was written it has carried the aura of one of the greatest love stories every told and Heathcliff is the original, tragic, alpha-male literary hero, a model for so many others, including Edward in Twilight and Christian in Fifty Shades.  In addition, I was particularly attracted to both Heathcliff and Catherine because they are flawed, not your stereotypical perfect hero and heroine.
 
3.  RwA: What do you think about the recent mainstreaming of erotic literature?
Miller: It’s wonderful that it’s out of the closet.  Perhaps not fully exposed in the mall bookstores and libraries, but certainly going strong with Kindles and Nooks.  As the popularity increases, there is more demand not just to produce a sexy book, but write one that is hot and tells a good story, which is good news for my work, which has always had an emphasis on being literary erotica. 
 
4.   RwA: In your story, Heathcliff is remarkably well-endowed; why?  Does this physical trait have an application to his character, or is it just fairly standard for a leading male in erotic stories to be so endowed?
Miller: So you noticed! The answer is “yes” and “yes.”  Heathcliff has always had a sort of mythical status of inner strength, passion, and even brutality.  It seemed natural that when interpreting him erotically, making him well-endowed would serve this myth well.  And when you are dealing with the heightened emotions of an erotic romance, ample endowment can certainly help contribute to the fantasy aspects of the story.
 
5.  RwA: What is it like being a man writing for a primarily female audience?
Miller: Lots of fun!  It’s certainly a challenge.  Since most of my readers are women, it is essential that I get the female protagonist right.  I enjoy writing strong female characters and as dominant as Heathcliff is, especially with other women, Catherine is more than his equal.  When writing an erotic romance I am looking for the voice that will appeal to women, one that expresses both strength and vulnerability, one that appreciates the full flowering of a beautiful romance.  It helps to be in touch with my feminine side to understand this complexity.  But perhaps I also have an advantage when it comes to the male’s point of view and revealing to women what makes a tragic hero tick.

 RwA:  Thank you, I.J., for agreeing to participate in this interview and for your candor.  I wish you great success with this and future books!

My Review

I love mashups.  So when given the opportunity to check out a mashup between the erotica genre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I was curious.  The notion of taking a classic work of literature and mashing it up with an unexpected element… I love it.  I used to be a purist, but, honestly, isn’t it wonderful that these literary worlds, instead of dying from neglect, can be explored by new audiences and illuminated by new contexts?

I love song mashups, too.

My quirky mashup-joy notwithstanding, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book, even though I enjoy literary erotica as a genre.  For starters, I’m not a fan of Wuthering Heights.  Heathcliff is an asshole, and Catherine is a crazy bitch, and as much as I enjoy the Cathy/Linton/Hareton story line, it isn’t enough of an inducement to get me through a few hundred pages of Heathcliff and Catherine being crazy asshats to each other and everyone else.  So, there you go.  I have a bias in favor of and a bias against Wuthering Nights: An Erotic Retelling of Wuthering Heights.

There were some things that I quite liked about this retelling, specifically:

  1. The erotic elements are very cleverly woven into the story.  How does Heathcliff convince Nelly to help him?  Well…. let’s just say it involves a dungeon.  How does Heathcliff morally destroy Isabella?  Well… let’s just say it involves a good deal of AP (and a dungeon).
  2. Catherine.  Batshit crazy she may be, but Miller did an excellent job blending the characterization provided by Brontë with the new elements he brought to bear on the story.  Actually, I thought Miller did a great job with all the characters, and I want to give him a high-five for excising most of Joseph’s role in the book (dude is soooo annoying in the original.).
  3. The ending between Cathy and Hareton is lovely, and I appreciated the deviation from Emily Brontë’s version of events.
  4. Wuthering Nights is told in a fairly straightforward third-person narrative, excepting the prologue and epilogue.  I appreciated the simplicity of the storytelling, because one of the things that I like least about the original is the shifting first-person narrative between Mr. Lockwood (a tenant and stranger) and Nelly (who tells him the whole sordid tale).

My primary objection to this book is its depiction of female sexuality, especially in Nelly and Isabella. (As an aside, though, I really do need to throw in that I could have happily lived my entire life without being exposed to the three (THREE!!) episodes of butt-licking contained in this one story.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I thoroughly enjoyed my underexposure to anilingus… Sadly, that ship has now sailed.)  As an erotic retelling of the story, I assumed that certain scenes were meant to be titillating to me, the reader, but I was far more often confused than moved by the actions and descriptions that are original to this work, mostly because I was alienated by the female characters’ responses to sexual stimuli.

  • Heathcliff is a domineering, brutal asshole who smells bad (or, at least, has a strong smell), is super hairy, sweats profusely, has bad breath, and has a capacity for rape (I’m never super keen on rape, and that continued to be the case throughout this book), yet Catherine, Nelly, and Isabella are powerless to resist his wiles whenever he flashes his giant dong in their general direction.  
  • There’s a scene about halfway through the book wherein Heathcliff, spurning Catherine’s advances, instead chooses to go outside and build a lattice.  While he hammers rhythmically, the three ladies in the house get hysterical with arousal and, each in her own room, proceed to take care of business.  Thence comes my favorite passage in the book: “Each with their own rhythm, all three might have orgasmed at different times, if Heathcliff hadn’t stopped suddenly, unbuttoned his fly, pulled out his stallion of a cock, and urinated all over the standing wood frame.  The sight of his outrageously massive member — golden liquid arcing in the sunlight, fully drenching the lattice — caused a simultaneous, feminine shudder throughout the home at Thrushcross Grange.”  That’s a lot of pee.
  • The prose used to describe Heathcliff’s manly man-ness is often just a bit over-the-top, but I can kind of go along with the profuse and worshipful descriptions of his shoulders (so broad and manly) and chest (“…the almost pear-shaped, iron arc of each pectoral…”) and how sexy the ladies found those parts to be.  Armpits, however, are not generally considered a super-sexy body part; however: “…revealing a glimpse at the full, dark thicket under his armpit, causing a quick intake of breath in the ladies,” and “[s]he leaned forward, by his armpit, and inhaled deeply the scent of his masculine fineness.”

So, there you have it.  A man may be stinky, both of breath and body, possess whole thickets of body hair, act with domineering brutality, and be bent on destroying a lady, but if he has a giant penis and he shows it to her, she will be powerless to resist it and him.  As long as Heathcliff (and his penis) is virile, forceful, and dominant, no lady can resist him.  The instant he displays “…deep vulnerability and humanness…,” however, “…she was able to see him for the ugly brute he was: sour breath, snoring at night like a windstorm, cruel to every human he came in contact with…”  This is such an intriguing (but also awful, in a way) view of masculinity and femininity.  In Heathcliff, there is masculinity that cannot soften, boundless strength available only through forced rigidity.  In Nelly, Isabella, and Catherine there is an instant, unthinking response to that strength, an instinctive yielding beyond the power of thought or reason.

I should point out that the story achieves something of a middle ground through the romance between Hareton and Cathy.  Hareton treads the territory between brute strength and gentleness, and Cathy is capable of using her brain on occasion. Their section of the book, though lovely, comprises only fifteen percent of the whole, and the rest is such an odd mix of disgusting behavior and worshipful response that I find myself on the negative side of ambivalence.  Although I could not exactly like the book because of its sheer implausibility (and the butt-licking), I’m not sorry I read it.  It is interesting, and I hope more people read it.

Wuthering Nights was released as an e-book on January 29, 2013 and will be released as a trade paperback on April 23, 2013 by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Books.  To find out more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about I.J. Miller, please check out his website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

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2 thoughts on “Review and Author Interview – Wuthering Nights by I.J. Miller (and Emily Brontë)

  1. “Just a bit” over the top? LMAO This is actually one of the few classics where would be like, “Okay, erotic retelling,” just because it’s crazy balls to begin with; buuuuuut I don’t think so.

    • I know… this is a tough one because I want everyone in the world to read this book so we can all talk about it (I can’t stress enough how interesting it is), but there’s some stuff in it that is… well, crazy balls is actually the perfect term for it. But despite all of that, there is so much room within this erotic retelling for discussion… About the original and how cracked up it is (WHY did Emily Bronte write it? What the hell was she trying to say?); about our culture and its obsession with sexuality; about men’s and women’s differing views on sexuality; etc. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a fun mashup, but this one made me think (rather a high compliment to pay to a book) about what had changed and what hadn’t, and what it all means. I didn’t find it a pleasant read, but excepting my run of Austen, it’s the most thought-provoking book I read all month. Anyway….

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