Sunday, February 26, 2012

Here On Earth

I bought this book because it was (1) cheap at ten rupees, (2) selected for Oprah’s Book Club, and (3) the author, Alice Hoffman, had written Practical Magic, which though I haven’t read yet is the book behind the movie Practical Magic which I loved even though it's been a billion years since I’ve watched it.

Let’s dive straight into the book, shall we?

After living in the city for almost two decades, March Murray returns to her home town in Massachusetts to attend the funeral of the family housekeeper Judith Dale. Tagging along, unwillingly, is her 15 year old daughter Gwen.

The motherless March and her much older brother Alan Murray were brought up by Judith Dale, and when March was eleven, their father brought home an orphan from the streets of Boston, a wild mannerless boy named Hollis. We know something was going to happen when little March looked at him from her window and announced “From now on, he’s mine”. The rebellious Alan was jealous of the attention Hollis received from his father, even beating him up so badly one day that Hollis had to be hospitalised.

When his father died rather suddenly, Alan inherited the whole estate and he immediately banished Hollis to the attic, even charging him for his room and food . It was in the cold iron bed in the attic that love bloomed between March and Hollis, when she was only fourteen. Hollis’ age was never determined, but I assume he is only a few years older than March.

The Murrays lived in Fox Hill, and the estate next to them, Glendale Farm, was owned by the rich Cooper family, and their two children Richard and Belinda. Young March and Hollis would spy on them and their rich lifestyles.

Time passed, and Hollis somehow managed to pay off his debts to Alan (with a little help from a lucky racehorse) and he immediately left town, leaving behind a heartbroken March who waited for him for two years, looking out from her little window in case he came back. But Hollis never did.

March finally gave up, and packed her bags and moved to the city, straight into the arms of Richard Cooper, who had loved her all this time. When she was pregnant with Gwen, Hollis had returned to their home town and asked her to come back to him. March refused, and life with Richard went smoothly. Until now.

Let me quickly fill you in on the events that happened during the time March was away. Hollis returned a rich man, making his money only God-knows-how, and bought Fox Hill and a lot of property in town. He married Belinda Cooper, and after their son died and then Belinda, he inherited Glendale Farm. Alan had become a drunkard after his wife died in a fire, and their little son Hank was running around naked and ragged. Unable to face life, Alan moved into a little abandoned hut at the marshes, and it was from here that Hollis brought Hank to live with him. But Hollis treats Hank very badly, never a kind word to him, treats him almost like a servant and it was a surprise that he even allowed Hank to go to school.

March comes back, and finds that Fox Hill is exactly the same as she remembers. Hollis watches from a distance, waiting for March to come to him. Which she eventually does during a festival, despite repeated warnings from her old friend, Susanna Justice, whose father Bill Justice was a colleague of March’s father.

March and Hollis “bump” into each other at the town’s only pub, and gossip follows when they leave together. You wonder what’s going to happen next. Is March going to throw away her comfortable life to be with Hollis? Or will her sense prevail and she will go back to Richard and leave her past behind once and for all? A part of you wants her to throw caution to the winds and be with Hollis, who clearly is her true love, her soulmate. But you also want to shake some sense into her and tell her that she had made her choice twenty years ago, and should honour that holy vow she made.

In the meantime we learn that Gwen and Hank have discovered each other. The fact that they are cousins does not seem to deter them from loving each other.

March and Hollis then resume their romance, which sometimes borders on a kind of manic obsession on Hollis’ part. He is wildly jealous (and there were rumours that he used to beat up Belinda and drove her to her death) and could not bear the thought of sharing March with anyone, not even with her friends and other townspeople. By this time March has made a crazy decision to stay on in town, giving a flimsy excuse that Gwen should go to school here. Hollis cut off the heat at Fox Hill, and March and Gwen move in at Glendale Farm with Hollis and Hank.

It was downhill all the way from here.

Although you knew March and Hollis were going to renew their romance, you didn’t expect this obsession, this madness, this unexpected tragic romance which makes you want to scream “Run, March, run, don’t ever come back”. You know something was wrong when they stopped making love and Hollis would just fuck her. He cut off the telephone lines at the house so March could not receive calls from Richard or anyone, intercepted her mails and even sabotaged her car. He is cruel to Gwen and Hank. You wonder, who is this madman? And when is this dizzy woman going to wake up and face the truth?

To make matters worse, Hollis would go out and sleep with other women. Claims it’s March’s fault.
Anything can fuel and argument between Hollis and March now. She looks at him the wrong way, she interrupts his work, she breathes; she’s somehow not enough his. His ardor hasn’t cooled, but often his flesh won’t comply with his spirit’s demands. When he can’t make love to her he insists it’s her fault. She never does as she says and she’s taken to fighting back, which is foolish. She leaves the room, she slams the door, behavior which only gives him all the more reason to go to one of the women in town who are so willing to pretend he belongs to them, if only for a few hours. When he comes home, he blames March even for this. She sent him into another woman’s arms; she forced him to stray. Why does she do this to him? To them? No one will ever love you the way I do, that’s what he tells her. No one can have you, if I can’t. Don’t even think about leaving, I mean that. Don’t even try.
See what I was talking about? March grows thinner, she neglects her looks and her hair which is becoming alarmingly white. She wears old ill-fitting clothes, and stays locked up in the house. This is not love anymore. More like imprisonment, is what I think.

The wake up call comes one cold night at New Year’s Eve. Hollis had gone out somewhere, and March and Hank decide to drive around town (Gwen had left long ago). They end up at Susanna Justice’s house, and were enjoying the company and the food when suddenly Hollis shows up. He tells Hank to go and be with his friends, and then proceeds to take March home. He is so angry at March that he shatters the car window with his bare hands, because he “would rather hurt himself than hurt her”. They drive home, and when they climb in bed March finally realises that this is no longer the boy she loved. This man is a complete stranger, someone she doesn’t know at all. "That boy who kissed her in the attic and promised to love her forever is no longer inside him".

This book has often been called modern Wuthering Heights, but I don’t think the characters do justice to the cast of Heights. Yes, Hollis is an orphan of unknown origins, he was mistreated and couldn’t have the love of his life, but you don’t feel pity or sympathy for him the way you do for Heathcliff. And March, oh weak confused spineless March! She can’t hold a candle to the beautiful, haughty and passionate Catherine Earnshaw. You want to shake her awake and send her home to Richard. And you breathe a huge sigh of relief when she creeps down the stairs that cold night and runs towards freedom and her real life.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, but I couldn't wait for the book to end, the characters were really that annoying.

  2. Replies
    1. Actually it has, but I didn't want to spoil it in case anyone wants to read the book.

  3. Replies
    1. Zo tawh e, a tawpna ka rawn sawilang tello a nih khi.

  4. Cheng sawm a lehkhabu lei theih chu ka va duh ve ve...

    1. Kan khua ah chuan secondhand pawh 100 a la chuang tho thin.. :-) a lehkhabu a zirin...

    2. Ni e, keini zawng kan changkang tlat. Novel pangai phei chu secondhand pawh 100 ai a tlawm a lei tur a awmlo tih theih tluk.

  5. Lei ve ngei chu a ngai dawn a ang :)

  6. Right from start i was getting irritated with the plot, such a copy of 'Wuthering Heights' and wanted to shout at the author for shameless plagiarism. But perhaps the borrowing is done deliberately for a purpose, maybe a parody of sorts with a twist.

    1. This book has got mixed reponses. Some people praised it because it's a modern Heights, while some hated the characters. I could forgive the characters if I liked the the writing style. There were a few profound sentences, but nothing that makes me want to reach for my pen and underline it.