When I began this book I have to admit that I didn't think the three words I'd be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fa...moreWhen I began this book I have to admit that I didn't think the three words I'd be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it's the worst book she's ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the "don't bother" part of my brain. So then, just before Christmas I saw or heard something about this book and that it was about a man who sells his wife and baby daughter at a fayre and immediately I thought that sounds intriguing and off I popped to pick up a copy. How glad I am that I did - The Mayor of Casterbridge has turned out to be one of my favourite books! I loved it!
Michael Henchard is a young man of twenty-one and walking the countryside of Dorset with his wife, Susan, and their baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, looking for work. They decide to rest a while in a small village where there is a fayre and several drinks later, Michael starts loudly asking for bidders to buy his wife. After accepting 5 guineas from a sailor he wakes later to realise that they have actually gone and when he realises what he has done he swears not to drink a drop more of alcohol for another 21 years (as long as he has so far lived). He starts to make enquiries about where the sailor and his family may have gone but nobody knows who he is and Michael is too ashamed of his conduct to search too effectively and he sets off on the road once more, alone.
The story then fast-forwards eighteen years and Michael is now the Mayor of Casterbridge (modelled on Dorchester in Dorset). It's difficult to say more about what happens next as I really don't want to give it away - this book is much better read if you know nothing about the characters and what is to come yet as there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The fuller title for The Mayor of Casterbridge is The Life and Death of a Man of Character, and that is really what this book is based around - Michael Henchard and his fall and rise (and fall again). The main cast of characters is small enough that we really get to know them well and care about them: Susan and Elizabeth-Jane become part of the story again as does a Scottish traveller looking for work, Donald Farfrae and a young lady, Lucetta Templeman, who gets caught up in something that will come back to haunt her in a big way later in the book.
Henchard really is a man of character, as the title suggests, and he is prone to jealousy, impulsiveness and malice but in turn he can be caring, warm and reflective meaning that the reader never hates him, but actually feels for him as he is his own harshest critic. What astounded me was Hardy's understanding of human nature: time and time again I was amazed that he had managed to get it so spot on; to really make me feel as the characters did and understand why they behaved the way they did.
What I really loved about this book, though, was the drama. This is why I love all the Victorian books I have read so far - they're like watching a soap-opera. The Mayor of Casterbridge has it all - love, hate, greed, jealousy, deceit and repentence. And watch out for a scene involving a skimmington-ride (what the Victorians - and those before them - used to do to humiliate people, particularly adulterous women or women who beat their husbands which involved a very rowdy and public parade with effigies of the persons concerned being ridden through town on the back of donkeys) which has extremely tragic consequences.
Verdict: I heart Thomas Hardy! This is the second book of his that I have read (the first being Tess) and I now fully intend to gorge myself on the rest this year. Forget your pre-conceptions about dry and dull Victorian literature - this book has it all! A firm favourite now and one I will definitely read again at some point. (less)
The hype for this book has been everywhere: if you’ve missed it you have possibly been under a rock for the past few months. Normally, if a book has S...moreThe hype for this book has been everywhere: if you’ve missed it you have possibly been under a rock for the past few months. Normally, if a book has SO much hype I give it a wide berth until it has all died down so that I can read it and savour it on my own but this one had me so intrigued and convinced that I would love it that I was itching to read it. Magic and Victorians, I thought; what’s not to love?
Unfortunately quite a lot. Despite loving parts of it, most of it left me hugely underwhelmed. OK, so let’s talk about what I liked about it first: the images created from this book were vivid – the costumes and the settings were largely well written and I could see them easily in my head. Infact, one thing that I loved was that several years ago I had visited the Cirque du Soleil and I remember a really heady smell of powder and costume paint in the tent, and reading this book managed to evoke that sense again which made me smile. I loved the tents and what was in them – acrobatic kittens, snowy wonderlands, the labarynth eating caramel and chocolate popcorn. I also loved the tent where whenever you took the lid of a random bottle you were transported to somewhere else, comeplete with smells and taste: it reminded me of what I love about books – you get so emersed in another world that it’s often a surprise to look up and realise that you are still in your front room.
Now on to what didn’t work for me: I never felt like I got to know any of the characters well enough; there were too many and none of them felt fully fleshed out to me. The books blurb has us believe that there is some epic battle of wits and skill between the two young aprentices, Celia and Marco who are pitted against each other in a battle to the end, despite them falling in love. I never bought their relationship at all – it came out of nowhere and it would be months, even years, between them seeing each other for only a few hours. Where was the passion or the tenderness or the longing to be together? It was the most understated relationship I have ever read about. Also, this epic battle that is eluded to in the blurb is hardly that – infact it takes about 20 years; the pacing was way off to make it in any way exciting or intriguing.
Verdict: For me, this was definitely a case of style over execution. The plot felt weak. The visuals were good but the plot was more of a whimper than a bang and I found myself rushing it in the hope of getting to the end and being rewarded which I never felt I was. It’s a shame – I wanted to love it but I really didn’t.
I tracked this book down a few weeks ago after reading a review on a blog and being curious due to several points: 1) it is par...moreThree and a half stars.
I tracked this book down a few weeks ago after reading a review on a blog and being curious due to several points: 1) it is partly set in Victorian times 2) The review mentioned a feeling of similarity to Rosemary’s Baby which is a book I read about 20 years ago and loved!
So, on to the book. Short at 124 pages this only took me a few hours to read. The story starts with Melanie who has been bed-bound for over a year due to having T.B. She gave birth to her son months before but hasn’t been able to see him because of her illness and she is bored and longing to live a normal life again. Melanie has clearly been spoilt and doted on and this is really apparant in the way those around her deal with her. The books beginning is with the Doctor finally allowing her to have a change of secenry and lie on the huge Victorian chaise-longue in the drawing room. Melanie recounts how she found the seat in a antique shop and was immediately drawn to it although she was unable to expalin why. One happily settled in her new surroundings and lying on the chaise-longue she settles down for a sleep……
Melanie wakes up to unfamiliar smells and surroundings (save for the chaise-longue) and finds herself being looked after by a lady in long skirts and who insists on calling her Milly. We watch Melanie struggle as it dawns on her that she is not dreaming and is, in fact, alive and (not so) well in the year 1864. Again, bed ridden with T.B. she can do nothing other than to try and persuade the small cast of characters that she isn’t Milly and doesn’t belong there. Laski uses the supporting cast to hint at trouble, secrets and shame in Milly’s life and we watch her try to piece together what has happened to her. The fact that Milly is unable to move and therefore unable to defend herself adds to the tension and the question of whether she will ever get back to her own life.
This book was written in 1953 and was classed as a horror book. The sparse narrative certainly helps to make it that way, although today’s more sophisticated readers (in terms of there is little that hasn’t been written about these days) would find this a much tamer read. It wasn’t scary so much as eery for me but the ending certianly woke me up.
I would recommend this book, not as a brilliant read, but as an enjoyable (and amusing) look at what would have been considered horror back in the day. You don’t need mass murderers and polterghiests to make a scary book; just a sparse plot that hints at what may have happened rather than lay it out in all its gory detail. Will it scare you? No. Will you enjoy it? I would say so.