The Mist on Brontë Moor is a 2013 novel by Aviva Orr which I accidentally stumbled across whilst browsing through some new titles to put on my Kindle for my holiday back in September. Although I didn’t manage to squeeze it in between the lovely Greek sun, the pool, the food, and the Poirot book I had taken with me (Evil Under the Sun if you were wondering – what else?), it stuck with me and I knew I wanted to pick it up soon. I always feel connected to the Brontës wherever I go, and Greece is no exception. Perhaps it’s because Brontë translates as βροντή which means thunder in the Greek language. Anyway, I think perhaps a haunting, Brontë-inspired tale is best reserved for our sometimes gloomy and atmospheric English weather rather than poolside in sunny Greece. If you’re intrigued by a combination of the Brontës, time travel, and Branwell as a romantic hero, then reader, let’s continue together. I’ll try to keep this one spoiler-free.
The plot follows a teenager named Heather Bell (yes, Bell), who is suffering from alopecia and the after effects of a brief but very confusing kiss with her best friend, Simon. Heather travels up to Yorkshire to escape her London life and stay with her elderly great Aunt Elspeth for a while. If it all sounds a bit too teen angsty for you, it actually isn’t despite the age and situation of the protagonist. Yes, Heather is a teen in love, but she’s also strangely relatable, and is actually very likeable. The day after her arrival in Yorkshire, Heather is walking on the moors, and becomes enveloped in a strange mist. Can you see where this is going yet?
Emerging on the other side of the mist, Heather meets a strange teenage girl, who is dressed plainly, and speaks even more plainly. This is none other than a young Emily Brontë who, seeing that Heather is lost and alone, takes her back to the parsonage until her aunt can be located. Whilst there Heather meets with the rest of the Brontës and tries to get used to life in the 19th century. Initially she is nervous and apprehensive (as you would be after a time slip on the moors), but eventually she opens up, and finds a new sense of freedom away from 21st century life, and the stigma surrounding her hair loss. She is also increasingly attracted to Emily’s brilliant and charming, yet unpredictable brother, Branwell. Heather is alarmed at being in 1833 at first, but the closeness of the Brontës, their brilliance, her new found freedom, and friendship with Emily, alongside her troubles in the present, make part of her want to stay in the parsonage with the Brontës forever. Heather’s relationship with Branwell stretches her to the limit as she tries to unlock the puzzle of the brilliant yet clearly tormented Brontë boy, and she must work out whether she even wants to return home.
Although The Mist on Brontë Moor is probably best described as young adult fiction, there is a lot more to it than that for those who are put off by this label. Personally, I do enjoy a lot of YA fiction, but I know it’s off-putting for readers long out of their teenage years (such as myself). The novel is part YA, part romance, part time travel, and of course, total fantasy. I actually really enjoyed this one; it was an easy and enjoyable read, and doesn’t end with the neat and tidy resolution you may be expecting even if you know the history of the Brontë family. It was also nice to see Branwell depicted as something other than an addict or a monster. Here he is a brilliant but tormented teenage boy who fights, drinks, and falls in love. The novel is actually very good at depicting that there are two sides to Branwell Brontë, and that both are as real as the other. It would have been nice to see Branwell’s literary achievements get more of a nod but I guess you can’t have everything. I also liked the fact that the novel stays true to the idea of the Brontës which we have gained from their works and surviving correspondence, but it never feels stereotypical. Somehow, the novel breathes fresh life into the depiction of the family. Throw in a side plot about a Heathcliff-esque man and a large wolf, and how can you resist this one?
I really enjoyed this one and would recommend it if you’re looking for a light and easy read. And that’s not a criticism of it’s style at all. It is light and easy, but it’s also a lot of fun, and very poignant in places. Reader, if you’re stuck in your allocated tier in the UK and can’t get to the moors currently, then picking this one up will transport you there until you can return once more.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
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