Changing Heaven, Jane Urquhart
McClelland & Stewart, 258 pages
Ann Frear can still remember when she first discovered the magic of Wuthering Heights. It was a stormy September afternoon – a hurricane, actually – and eleven year-old Ann had fought the wind and the rain on her way home from school. Safely tucked away in her upstairs bedroom in Toronto, huddled under the covers, Ann read the story of Catherine, Heathcliff, and the wind howling on the moor, and knew she had found her life’s work.
Decades later, Ann is a Bronte scholar mired in a turbulent relationship with Arthur, an art historian. She loves so fiercely that her passion consumes her, and Arthur, already married to someone else, desires her but will not let her into his life. Once she fully understands that Arthur does not love her, Ann is stricken, and flees to Yorkshire to lose herself in the life and landscape of Emily Bronte.
Ann is not alone as she wanders the moor. In a parallel narrative that takes place a century earlier, blonde, waiflike Polly Smith is utterly devoted to balloonist Jeremy Jacobs. He is entranced by her delicacy, and to please him, she dresses entirely in white, changes her name to Arianna Ether, and becomes the star of his show, rising up in a hot air balloon and floating down in a parachute. When she wakes up dead on the Yorkshire moor after a performance, she is met by Emily Bronte, who has already been dead for fifty years. Together, they seek to understand their pasts and come to terms with their new realities.
Changing Heaven is an astoundingly beautiful exploration of tempestuous love, set against the backdrop of stark landscape and violent weather. Urquhart writes as lyrically as Bronte herself, and this moving novel should appeal to those who enjoyed A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.