Review: ‘Here on Earth’ by Alice Hoffman

Blurb from GoodReads: 

The bestselling author of The Dovekeepers tells her most seductive and mesmerizing tale yet–the story of March Murray, who returns to her small Massachusetts hometown after nineteen years, encountering her childhood sweetheart…and discovering the heartbreaking and complex truth about their reckless and romantic love.

Review:

At first, I liked this book- I liked the small-town setting and some of the descriptions, particularly March’s flashbacks to her early life with Hollis, Hoffman’s ‘Heathcliff’ character who her father abruptly adopted (much to her elder brother’s bitterness.) It feels immersive and I loved some of the descriptions, e.g. how a certain scent ‘fell like dough’ over the town, how Hollis’s horses mimicked his personality, and how the town was plagued by wild foxes that who bred with dogs. Little magical realist elements like these were what kept me reading, even when the story got darker and darker. I could definitely see why it became an Oprah Book Club choice, and I was intrigued by how March was so fiercely independent and autonomous in her sexuality, to the point of dangerous selfishness, as her affair with Hollis develops into something all-consuming. However, my attitude to this book’s characters soon shifted. March’s daughter, Gwen, gets so neglected by her mother that my feelings changed from sympathy for March to discomfort, and eventual dislike. She was so selfish, so irresponsible, and Hollis himself didn’t seem to care about asking March for sexual consent- yes, there are some pretty graphic scenes here– which left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not sure if this is a healthy message to send out. Their ‘love’ felt more abusive than romantic to me.

When you take into account how this book is based on Emily Bronte’s classic ‘Wuthering Heights’, the relationships and plot of the novel begins to become clearer, but arguably not as pleasant to read about. March= Cathy, Hollis= cruel but passionate Heathcliff, whose love for Cathy becomes a dangerous obsession, Gwen= Cathy’s daughter, Hank, Hollis’s stable hand and kind-of-son-figure= Hareton, Cathy’s cousin, who stays with Heathcliff. The moors become marshes, Wuthering Heights itself becomes March’s childhood home. So far, so good, and Hoffman encapsulates well the sense of these strong, classic characters, within contemporary figures. But here‘s where this novel began to jar for me- when the ‘Wuthering Heights’ allusions became more and more obvious, I inevitably began comparing it, and this just didn’t have the same heady romantic feel for me.

Gloomy, soggy marshes just didn’t have the Gothic, windswept feel of the moors, and the passion between Hollis and March, whilst consuming, wasn’t quite the ‘can’t live with you, can’t live without you’, powerful once-in-a-lifetime love of Cathy and Heathcliff. As I said, it felt abusive. Gwen and Hank also felt like peripheral characters to me- I found Gwen annoying and whiny, whilst Hank remained too much of an enigma, too much of a recluse. In real life, if you prefer that much  to be alone, then you stay alone- a conveniently pretty girl doesn’t just come wandering along out of the marshes to woo you. Real relationships take effort, they require you to step out of your comfort zone and to actually meet people, so their romance, whilst following the framework of ‘Wuthering Heights’ felt too much like ‘insta-love.’

(SPOILER) Gwen and Hollis are also COUSINS, for Christs’ sake. (HELL NO!) Are we actually meant to be rooting for them to be together, even though they’re related by blood? (HELL NO! HELL NO!)  It felt as though this was what Hoffman was driving at, but in the end it felt more unnerving than romantic. I also found it strange how Gwen didn’t really try to cut their budding relationship off when she realized they were related. Some things are surely just wrong? And yet she kept going on about wanting ‘something pure,’ whilst railing against March and Hollis’s relationship. (Also kind of weird in itself, as he’s meant to be her adoptive brother.) It was incredibly agonizingly slow-paced and there were FAR TOO MANY characters as well, who grated on me- I found I didn’t care for them or their love lives. They felt like ‘filler’ characters, just as  dull as the small-town gossip they were so keen to spout. They also distracted from what was going on with March and Hollis, and yet there was no surprises there, ultimately- March and Hollis themselves seemed to career towards disaster with all the inevitability of a freight truck.  In the end, this book had great promise, and I loved some of the imagery and the ‘Wuthering Heights’ references, but it lacked the enchantment of some of Hoffman’s other work, and felt like a slow, grim read.

Overall rating: 3.5 out of 10

Read if you enjoyed: ‘Lost Lake’ by Sarah Addison Allen (review here)

This book in four words: Dark. Evocative. Slow. Paced.

Favourite Character: None, really

Image is a still from the 2011 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights (dir: Andrea Arnold) via Tumblr

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