I know jackshit about the Brontë family. I was an angsty teen who hated being told what to do, and reading old classics in Humanities and English class was included in that hatred. I read Grapes of Wrath half sleeping, I read 1984 in snippets and off SparkNotes, and I didn’t read a single boring line of Great Expectations and failed just about every test on it my freshman year of high school.
I will say I read 1984 as an adult and loved it, because I wasn’t being forced and instead could read it slowly on my own time without being tested on what the author meant, but I was never assigned any Brontë books. My junior year of college, I decided to dig into classics I was never assigned on my own dime, and fell in love with a lot of books. Of Mice and Men. The Great Gatsby. Animal Farm. Lord of the Flies. The Odyssey. And there were some I hated. Catcher In The Rye. The Call of the Wild. And...Wuthering Heights. I was reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë in my marketing strategy class when my professor asked what class I was reading the smelly, beat-up copy of the yellow-stained paged novel for and I pretentiously told him I was reading it for fun. He looked me up and down as if to say he was shocked I would read something of such prestige dressed in stained two-day-in-a-row sweatpants and reeking of day-after hangover sweats and greasy roots.
But, I did it. I finished it. And I wish I didn’t. Which is why I didn’t finish Branwell by Douglas A. Martin.
I tried. I really really tried. I read enough of it to write this review and I’ll tell you why I didn’t give up my precious limited minutes of my life to get to the end. The story is told in short, completely disjointed, confusing, and overly dull pieces. I found myself constantly searching for the end of any paragraph so I could put it down out of sheer boredom and contempt.
It is a book published in 2005 that is pretending it was written in the 1800’s, but badly. It is supposed to tell a fictional story of the gifted artist, but often forgotten writer, Branwell Brontë. The only Brontë son who was expected to make the family fortune and give the Brontë name distinction. Instead, he dies at 31 from alcohol and opium abuse. I had high hopes for this book, because the premise sounds sad, depressing, but invigorating.
I was completely let down and almost offended by this book. There is a sexual scene that was atrocious and off-putting and left a bad, bad taste in my mouth (spoiler: it includes barn animals and not in a cute way). It also tries to portray Branwell as queer but keeps it nameless, which in my mind, is not queer representation in the slightest. Keeping a supposed queer character, even if based off a real, mysterious person, in the shadows is more damaging than anything. The more I read, the more I disliked it. The beginning really had me as he grappled with the grief of losing his two older sisters, but then, I was completely lost.
If you have a strong fascination with historical fiction and the Brontë family, maybe this would be up your alley, but I found it boring some and borderline psychopathic.
By Douglas A. Martin
239 pages. Originally published 2005, reissued 2020.