The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Michael Henchard, when drunk, "sells" his wife and baby daughter at a village fair. Some twenty years later, when he's become the Mayor of Casterbridge, they re-appear on the scene in the hope of some kind of reconciliation.

This was a book I read for O-level, thirty years ago. And my memory of it was of a rather gloomy trudge of a book, which has prevented me from reading any more Thomas Hardy ever since. It must have made something of an impression on me though, because I could remember bits of narrative and characters from all that time ago as I started this one again.

Initially my earlier impressions seemed to be confirmed but as the book went on it did grow on me and, while I don't think I'd count it as a favourite, it was definitely worth the read, and makes me think I'll try more Hardy.

A main theme was Henchard's capacity for self-destructive acts. I think at heard he's not really an evil man, but has flashes of temper that lead him to behave rashly, combined with an obstinate streak that makes it difficult for him to back down when he realises he's done wrong. So the book's a tragedy really: while he does some very hurtful and destructive things, he's a sympathetic character.

I am not sure if this counts as a "psychological" novel. There is insight into what people are thinking, but I think it was always done using forms like "he said to himself..." or "she told herself.." rather than "he thought..". And I didn't notice any free indirect speech at all. It's not nearly as impressive in this respect as Middlemarch, which was published ten years earlier.

Glad I read it (although it was three weeks ago so this review isn't as comprehensive as it ought to be) and will try more Hardy.

Completed : 22-Apr-2009 (audiobook)

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