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Monday, August 1, 2011

The House of Dead Maids

G/A Dunkle, Clare B. The House of Dead Maids. 2010. 147p. 978-0-8050-9116-8. 15.99.

Dunkle's novel, billing itself as "a chilling prequel to 'Wuthering Heights'" on the cover, has at its core a bizarre premise: what if Emily Bronte's housekeeper helped the "real" Heathcliff become a member of the family at Wuthering Heights? Young, timid Tabby is taken on as the nursemaid to a gruff and ill-mannered young boy at the creepy estate of Seldom House at the onset. She can tell right away that something is amiss. The young boy seems to have no name, but just be called a "heathen git" by the adults of the house. Also, the ghost of an eyeless young girl haunts her dreams. Dunkle has created a fast-moving, frightening (but not overly graphic) ghost story that will enthrall middle school readers. However, the premise is a bit muddled. According to the author's epilogue, Tabitha Ackroyd was the housekeeper to the famous Bronte family. Biographies of the Brontes indicate that Ms. Ackroyd told the Bronte sisters many frightening tales, which supposedly had a strong influence on the imagination of Emily (who went on to write "Wuthering Heights"). Are we to think that Heathcliff was a real person who Tabitha saved from pagan sacrifice at nefarious hands, and then she eventually told this bizarre tale to the Brontes? And that Emily Bronte extrapolated the novel of "Wuthering Heights" from this story? Or is Dunkle implying that the events in "Wuthering Heights" were also real? Dunkle leaves these questions unanswered.

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