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I’m in love (again) with Thomas Hardy

Okay, everyone, I’ve been missing a trick! Every month (almost) since Dare to Remember was published, I’ve been reviewing books and recommending my favourites on Bill Buckley’s Book Club show on BBC Radio Berks (thank you Bill!). I’ve really enjoyed it and I know others have liked my choices.

So I’m going to share one or two a month with you all, and promote the blog on Twitter and Facebook so that more people will see my reviews. The books I read cover a huge range, though they’re (pretty much) all fiction. I really hope you like them!

Here’s my first recommendation.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

A true classic, and I’d forgotten how much I love Thomas Hardy. This book is just brilliant. Entrancing storytelling, great characterisation, wonderful use of language – and it paints the setting with extraordinary clarity.

Set in 1920s England, it’s the story of Michael Henchard, a young hay-trusser, his wife, Susan, and infant daughter, Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard is an unemployed farm labourer who feels he is worthy of more and believes his wife and child are holding him back.

At a country fair, Henchard starts drinking and claims that he will gladly sell his wife and child if a good enough offer was made. A man makes him an offer and his wife goes off with him, believing it to be what she should do. Morning sobriety reveals to Henchard the horror of what he has done, and he makes an oath to not drink for twenty years.

Newson, the man who bought Henchard’s wife and child, is a sailor and many years later is lost at sea. Elizabeth-Jane believes Newson is her father. Susan and her daughter seek out Henchard and hope that he may be in a position to support them. It is Susan’s only hope for her daughter’s future.

They find Henchard in the town of Casterbridge where he is now the mayor, a bustling town ‘deposited upon a cornfield.’ I love this quote: ‘The farmer’s boy could sit under his barley-mow and pitch a stone into the office-window of the town-clerk.’

It could all finish happily here – but it doesn’t. Henchard’s pride, temper, overriding self-interest and self-preservation are his downfall, and the story turns into a tragedy. I like him enormously, though he is fatally flawed.

Engrossing and entertaining, this book races along, with frequent unexpected turns. The issues it deals with are still relevant today: the price of fame, women faced with difficult choices, changing society where tradition clashes with new ideas, fate as a consequence of character.

I’ve fallen back in love with Hardy.

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