Context: Finished this off in Argyle Sqaure, Bloomsbury, London while I was in London for my brother-in-law’s wedding.
Haven’t tackled Hardy for a while. I found the last effort (The Return of the Native) a bit of a tough read so I was glad to find that this was far from difficult. In fact, this has an opening chapter that even Ian McEwan would find hard to match.
From the outset and throughout the novel, you are presented with a captivating portrait of Michael Henchard. It’s a Hardy novel, so you know that he’s doomed from the start. But he starts off so rashly that you are left wondering if he’ll actually make it to the end of the novel. He makes it, and on the way actually does quite well, but you know that the downward spiral is inevitable. And so it proves.
This is a great novel. Packed with great characters and deep insight into the flawed and often contradictory human psyche. No wonder it ranks among Brit Lit’s finest works and arguably Hardy’s best. The character of Henchard you both love and hate. And you see so much of yourself in him. That’s always the sign of a good character because, once you realise this, it’s hard to condemn failings that you plainly see in yourself.
I also liked the way Hardy interwove various storylines so that, like Henchard, you were in the dark until fairly late on in the story about who was actually related to whom. All in all, this is a very good read and one that, once I’ve finished Hardy’s canon, I might well return to.
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