This was a strange reading experience for me.
I liked the book. I want to get that out there right away. It’s a good book, an interesting story about an interesting subject and an entertaining read.
But reading it was kind of strange.
I picked up Ariel S. Winter’s novel Barren Cove basically at random from my local library’s “New Books” shelf. The premise sounded interesting, and it’s not that long–why not give something I’ve never heard of a try.
An outdated robot named Sapien, seeking peace and quiet, rents an isolated beach house owned by the family who live in the nearby dilapidated Victorian mansion. He soon becomes entangled in the family’s story.
This is the future, a time when artificial intelligence has replaced nearly all of humanity, so the “family” is a robotic one. Except for one member, the one who appears to be the oldest, Beachstone, whose story Sapien is anxious to discover.
Have you already seen what I saw?
A lonely setting. A man on his own, seeking solitude, becomes entangled in another family’s history, an old Victorian house, the title of the book Barren Cove, the man of the house called Beachstone.
Add to this an encounter with the gardener, a out-dated robot who speaks with what might be described as an accent, and a household computer named Dean who runs things at Barren Cove.
We soon get the basics about the family. Years ago the “father,” an old-model robot designed to tutor human children, brought home an orphaned human boy to join his family of one daughter, a robot named Mary, and one son another robot named Kent. Mary comes to love Beachstone in her way while Kent, who resents the attention he gets from his sister and from his father, comes to hate him.
This is Wuthering Heights. Did the flap mention Wuthering Heights? I went back to read it. No mention of Emily Bronte on the front or on the back flap, no mention of her in any of the eight blurbs quoted in the books first pages.
But I was enjoying the book so I kept reading. It’s a quick read, one I finished in a day, and it does continue to follow Wuthering Heights right up to the end. There is no ghost but there’s plenty of Gothic weirdness, enough to go round.
Afterwards, I checked the reviews on-line. Nearly every book blog I could find mentioned Wuthering Heights. Glad to see I was not the only one. I could not find many “real” reviews but I did read the one Kirkus published. Kirkus mentioned the influence of Chekov, Strindberg and Ray Bradbury but nothing about Emily Bronte.
To be fair, I’m guessing the blurb writers had much more to say than just what the publisher pulled out for inclusion in the book jacket. So either none of the eight reviews included mentioned Emily Bronte’s masterpiece or the publishers felt mention of Wuthering Heights would not help sales.
Is that true? Would mere mention of Wuthering Heights reduce sales? Is that what civilization has come to? Say is isn’t so!
It’s possible to read and to enjoy Barren Cove with no knowledge of Emily Bronte at all. Mr. Winter’s book has much to offer as a meditation on what makes humans human. Like I said earlier, it’s a good read, too. But as for me, I became a bit lost playing find the Wuthering Heights references. There were many. It was fun. I think if the book had been more upfront about it, I would have been able to lose myself in the story, instead of reading the book as something of a parlor game.
Though it was a fun game.
And just in case there are publishers out there reading this post, if you mention Wuthering Heights on the flap or in the blurbs, there’s a very good chance you will sell at least one book.