Black Spring by Alison Croggon: revisiting Heathcliff for a spell
Alison Croggon, whose fantasy novel The Gift (first of the Pellinor series) floated my boat way on release in 2002, has done a fine job of cutting to the chase in Black Spring (Walker Books, 2012), which makes no bones about its strong foundation in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
Croggon takes the structure — a narrator arrives, meets some of the players and receives the story in a monologue from someone in the know — the mood and the cornerstones of the plot about thwarted desire, class and revenge, but does some elegant re-imagining.
UPDATE, VIDEO: Alison Croggon talks Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë and Black Spring at the Wheeler Centre
The moors are out; instead, it’s a highland plateau — just as isolated, just as windswept — with a touch of the fantastic.
Narrator Hammel, a writer, begins in an almost New Weird setting of hedonistic city, where the literati have their own guild and a certain social sway. It might bring to mind the shenanigans of the Romantics wine bar crowd. Hammel retires to the north, a rented manor in sight of the Black Mountains. The plateau is a land of mystery, a kind of Transylvania meets Sicily, with changeable weather and a certain harshness, just right for this dark tale. It’s a land of small villages, of priests vying with magicians for the fear of the populace if not their hearts, of rampant superstition … and the vendetta, a way in which the king’s coffers are enriched and the male population is culled.
It might be a fantastical setting but for the incongruous presence of the Catholic church, uncomfortable in a land where magicians really can burn people from the inside out, send curses and engage in psychic combat, making this more of an alternative realm.
Hammel meets the Heathcliff analogue, Damek; has a suitably wonderful paranormal experience in line with Lockwood’s dream of Cathy in the Brontë version; and then is told the tragic story of Damek’s obsession with Lina, the daughter of the local lord both blessed and cursed with royal and witch blood.
Perhaps the most notable departure from Brontë’s text is in the ending — this isn’t called Black Spring for nothing!
The characters are all suitably flawed, each unable to prevent the inevitable tragedies that drag them all down.
Croggon uses suitably prose of the era with all her poetic might, delivering a satisfying if — as I recall the original — slow-paced recounting of love and revenge.