The Brontë Plot
by Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (November 3, 2015)
Published in 2015, The Brontë Plot by Katherine Reay gives the Brontës a treatment which is more commonly used with Jane Austen (indeed the author's previous novels did precisely that). We believe Austen's own lighter tone makes the approach easier in a way. Katherine Reay has tried to brave the Brontës and the result is somewhat irregular(1).
Lucy Alling, who works at an antiques gallery, has carved a little corner for herself dealing in antique books. She's a book lover. She has always loved books and they are a physical connection to her dad, a con man who left when she was a kid but still sends her a 'birthday book' each year. She loves books in themselves but also stories, telling them and making them up, a trait seemingly inherited from her father. She meets her boyfriend James by selling him a couple of books and when he introduces her to his grandmother, Helen Carmichael, there is an instant bond between them. However, when James discovers some of her selling practices he breaks up with her. So imagine her surprise when Mrs Carmichael requests Lucy accompany her on a trip to England as a consultant.
There is more to this trip than just buying silver in London: a journey into Lucy's own past, a trip down memory lane for Helen and a peregrination to Haworth. All this is peppered with Brontë references and mentions and quotes. And ultimately, the plot of the novel is summed up within its own pages:
"People don't change, remember?" James poked his fork at her.Later on, Lucy comes across a character who truly leads the way for her: Mr Rochester.
"I wish you'd stop saying that. It's not true," Lucy's conviction startled her. She quickly searched for something, anything, to back her claim. "Look at the stories. Jane and Edward? Huge change for both of them. Catherine and Henry from Northanger Abbey? Both grew up. Admittedly she had more growing to do. Heathcliff and Cathy? Okay, bad example. That one kinda makes your point. But John Thornton and Margaret Hale? Huge divisions and huge changes in understanding. . . Writers wouldn't write about change and true love unless they were real, and if they did, we wouldn't read the stories because we'd know they were writing lies."
And Lucy found it. A character that made sense; a journey with enough profundity to grasp. Edward Fairfax Rochester. She'd pushed away comparisons to James. That wasn't his story--it was hers. Rochester couldn't move--could never move--forward because he hadn't gone back. He hadn't laid down his sin and accepted that there was an absolute right.This is a book written for young readers and when reading it as definitely not a young reader anymore, one runs the risk of being cynical about many aspects. The characters may seem shallow, trivial and flat, only delineated on the surface. The wisdom shared by the grandmother may seem obvious and stereotypical and the plot may seem to run on and on unnecessarily hinging on things that wouldn't seem to warrant all that fuss. But a young reader may not find all this, but a tale of a young woman trying to find herself and free herself from the ties in her past. The sexy boyfriend (which in spite of descriptions to the contrary we couldn't help but picture as Logan from Gilmore Girls), the descriptions of outfits, hairdos and the horror of blushing, lengthy descriptions of situations which are par for the course for adults and just why lying comes so easily sometimes may just be thing for a young reader. All this surrounded by plenty of literary things and quotes and a pervading love for stories and books. And also as usual with these books, the best thing about them is the fact that they make young readers tackle classic authors which they would otherwise skip or only read unwillingly at school.
But he found it. He ran across the ramparts. He reached for Bertha, accepting all that he was and all he had been, and he paid with his eyes, with his hand, and with his heart. And to show her approval, her seal upon his life and choices, Charlotte had given him the glorious ending.
(1) And while we appreciate the effort and are thankful to the author for mentioning Anne and her works, we would have loved for Anne's second novel not to have been misnamed a couple of times as The Tenet of Wildfell Hall and The Tenent of Wildfell Hall. Similarly, Ferndean is once called Ferndale. A Book called The BRONTË Plot may have got all its Brontë references right.