By Alison Case Harpercollins Publishers/Paperback/480/pages/ $31.65/Books Kinokuniya/4.5/5
Fans of Emily Bronte's 19th- century gothic classic Wuthering Heights will remember the character of Ellen Dean.
Better known as Nelly, she is a prime example of the unreliable narrator who injects her own views on matters and is biased towards certain characters, making readers question her words.
Nelly Dean, as its title suggests, is all about the woman who served the Earnshaw family as their loyal housekeeper. If you are hoping that she will dish more on the intense love story of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff that was at the core of Wuthering Heights, you will be disappointed, but no matter because this novel has a more intriguing focus.
Nelly Dean's narrative is concerned with mining other relationships and stories.
Author Case sheds light on Nelly, her family and how she arrived to work at the moor-top farmhouse that is the Heights.
One gets a glimpse of her complicated relationship with the Earnshaw heir, Hindley, before gypsy boy Heathcliff enters the family and her position in the household is fixed as servant.
In retelling a literary masterpiece, Alison Case has managed to add to the storyline without diminishing any of the characters Bronte deftly created more than a century ago, leading up to a sweeter ending that is her own.
Twists and turns are skilfully woven into the framework of the original novel's plot in this modern reworking. Case plugs gaps and offers clever interpretations as to why Catherine's brother Hindley is the bitter beast that he is, as well as the reasons behind Nelly's differing treatments of him and Heathcliff.
An English professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Massa- chusetts, Case was paid a six-figure sum for this, her first attempt at fiction - after it was brought to publishers' attention by best- selling novelist Tracy Chevalier.
In retelling a literary masterpiece, Case has managed to add to the storyline without diminishing any of the characters Bronte deftly created more than a century ago, leading up to a sweeter ending that is her own.
One is alternately sympathetic towards this version of Nelly, who toils for her employers, and exasperated with her.
Her overwhelming desire to be seen as not just the help but also a member of the family is fleshed out by Case, such that Nelly is strengthened as not just a narrator but as significant and compelling a character as the others.
By moving her from the periphery to the centre of the story, Case makes you realise that Nelly may have suffered more, perhaps, than the tragic figures she waited upon.
If you like this, read: Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin (Abacus, 1990, $24.34, Books Kinokuniya), in which Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde is told from the perspective of a young girl working in the Jekyll household.