People come to my events who have read We Were Liars five or six times. They really know what they’re talking about when they ask questions. One thing I get pretty often is: “Were you thinking about Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, when you were writing?”
The answer is no.
“But it’s in the book!” this smart reader will say. “Gat and Cadence, they kiss in that hallway that night, you know the scene, and he says he’s like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and she doesn’t know what he means until later!”
Yes, that’s true. But I put all that into the book very late in the editing process.
Here, for people who don’t know it, I’ll explain a little about Wuthering Heights, which is a nineteenth-century novel that I’ve read several times. It’s full of romance and ghosts and family feuds and a huge amount of anger, actually. It’s completely great but it also takes forever to read, so here’s the shortie version:
Genre: not a romance so much as a book about race and privilege and real estate in a very intense windswept landscape. But there’s a lot of romance, too. What happens: A boy of colour – Heathcliff, a “gypsy” – gets brought up in a wealthy white household. When he grows up, Heathcliff falls in love with the daughter of the family, Catherine. She loves him back but they fight all the time over the disparities in their positions, and she goes off in a huff and marries someone else. The two of them are doomed to be obsessed with one another forever. Even after she dies, she haunts him.
Okay, so We Were Liars is not a romance so much as a book about race and privilege and real estate and a windswept landscape. But there’s a lot of romance, too. In it, a boy of colour – Gat, an Indian-American kid from Manhattan – spends every summer visiting a private island owned by a wealthy white family. When he grows up, Gat falls in love with the heiress of the family, Cadence. She loves him back but they fight all the time over the disparities in their positions and . . . well, it’s really very different from Wuthering Heights in terms of plot.
“Doesn’t sound that different.”
Well, it is.
But also, no, it isn’t.
I never set out to write a contemporary re-imagining of Wuthering Heights. In fact, I was much more preoccupied with We Were Liars being an amnesia story that played around with narrative structure. But at some point, when I had written several drafts of the book, it jumped out at me: the book I had written was deeply connected to Emily Brontë’s novel, and I should just go in and acknowledge that. It’s what revisions are for.
So I wrote that scene in the hallway.