Kim's Reviews > The Return of the Native

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
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Aug 06, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: audiobook, all-time-favourites
Read from September 30 to October 06, 2011

I have spent the last thirty five years convinced that I do not like Thomas Hardy. I know how it happened. Reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles when I was in high school and again at university made a lasting - and a negative - impression on me. Admittedly, I went on to read Jude the Obscure and Far from the Madding Crowd, also while I was at university, and quite liked both novels. Notwithstanding this, my dislike of Tess overshadowed whatever appreciation for Hardy's work I might otherwise have developed. The result is that I have not read another of Hardy's novels since leaving university.

Until now. Through one of my Goodreads friends (Thanks Robin!) I discovered that Alan Rickman had narrated The Return of the Native and I decided that if listening to an audiobook narrated by Rickman could not make me like Hardy, then nothing could. After all, I would pay good money to hear Alan Rickman read the telephone directory or the bus timetable, so why not listen to him read Hardy?

What an excellent decision that was, for this was a sublime experience.

First, there's the novel itself. This is Greek or Shakespearean tragedy in the form of a novel. The setting, Egdon Heath, is a character in itself, brought alive by its flora, its fauna, the time of day, the season, the weather conditions and - most of all - those who live there. Then there are the main characters whose lives and dramas are played out on and around the heath: all of them amazingly alive with their passions and their flaws. And there are the secondary characters: those who live in the cottages on the heath who act as both comic relief and Greek chorus. There's the tragedy itself, which is brought about not by evil, but - as tragedy so often is - by misunderstandings and bad timing. The tragedy is lightened somewhat by the conclusion of the novel, which is a happy ending for at least some of the characters. This was not the ending that Hardy initially intended and was apparently a result of the demands of serial publication and the expectations of readers. I think the novel suffers somewhat as a result, but only a little.

Secondly, there's the language of the novel. Hardy eventually gave up writing novels to write poetry and it's clear that the poet was always there in the novelist. The language is rich, complex, with breathtakingly beautiful imagery. Many scenes are so vividly described that I could see them as oil paintings, knowing exactly how the light and shadow would fall on them.

Thirdly, there's Alan Rickman's narration. It is, quite simply, a joy to listen to. Rickman narrates; he does not deliver a bravura acting performance, so his reading is restrained. However, he nevertheless creates distinctive and appropriate voices for the characters, including wonderful West Country accents for the supporting characters. His voice is mesmerising: low, rich and warm. I could listen to it forever.

All in all, as an experiment to see if I could really enjoy a novel by Thomas Hardy, listening to this audiobook has been spectacularly successful. If I had read a text version, I probably would have given it a four star rating, maybe even 3 1/2 stars because of the less than totally satisfactory ending. Listening to Alan Rickman read the book to me has elevated the experience from great to amazing. My only problem is that I may have difficulty finding another audiobook that I will enjoy as much.

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Quotes Kim Liked

Thomas Hardy
“Why is it that a woman can see from a distance what a man cannot see close?”
Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native

Reading Progress

09/30/2011 "Can being read to by Alan Rickman finally persuade me that I really do like Thomas Hardy after all? The experiment begins ..." 4 comments
10/01/2011 "This may be worthwhile if only to hear Alan Rickman sing and speak in a West Country accent. Both are delightful to hear."
10/02/2011 "It's hard for me to believe, but I think the experiment may be working. Alan Rickman may actually be helping me to like Thomas Hardy ..." 10 comments
10/04/2011 "Alan Rickman. Singing. In French. Could this get any better?" 3 comments

Comments (showing 1-43 of 43) (43 new)

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message 1: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Thank you, Simran.

There are those who believe that listening to an audiobook is not really reading. There was a time when I probably would have agreed, but no longer. I find that I listen very carefully to audiobooks: I "read" every word, because I can't speed up and skim read to get to the end of the chapter, which I sometimes do if I'm reading text.

Also, and importantly, being read to is a very special experience. For most of us, it's our first experience of the joy of books. But historically, it's the way books were consumed. In days of low literacy, or simply in days before audiovisual entertainment, books were read out loud. I think that it's really good to be able to recreate that experience. For me, audiobooks do that and are a joy. They are only as good as the narrator, though. So I'm very fussy about which ones I listen to.

message 2: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla I found Hardy more digestible via audiobook as well - in my case, The Mayor of Casterbridge. I still think he's an author I have to be in a certain mood to want to read: like a grey February day whilst in the midst of a wrist-slitting depression. :P

message 3: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla If it's unabridged, it's most definitely reading a book IMO. I'm getting the whole thing as the author wrote it. Abridgments are another issue, but if it's what I can get my hands on, then I'll go with it. And you're right about requiring focus, because I tend to tune out something yammering in my ear for any length of time. Audiobooks have been a challenge for me, personally.

message 4: by Karla (last edited Oct 07, 2011 05:03AM) (new) - added it

Karla In my opinion.

Most people have only read an abridgment of some classics like The Count of Monte Cristo. The totally unabridged version (with a good translation) is massive & it took me forever to find one. Then there are books like Mandingo, where the unabridged version can be super-expensive on the OP market.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I love your review, Kim, but by your own admission, it is a bit misleading. You gave 5 stars to Alan Rickman's reading of the book. The story itself, you only awarded 3-1/2 to 4 stars.

I have only read Under the Greenwood Tree and reading your review helps me realize why I didn't care for the main story all that much. If Hardy was truly meant to be a poet, then I understand why I enjoyed the small story of the choir, but not the main arc's love story. His descriptive passages of the area, and the old ways, even the way these people spoke, was lovely. But, the love story was rather unconvincing. Maybe Rickman would have saved that one for me, too.

message 6: by Jemidar (last edited Oct 07, 2011 06:49AM) (new) - added it

Jemidar I actually don't think it's misleading at all as she is reviewing the audio edition. The narrator has to come into the equation and Kim at least made that clear. It's like when you are reviewing e-books, in some editions the formatting is really screwy and that then should be mentioned in the review so people know to avoid that edition.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I didn't mean it to reflect negatively in any way on Kim. I do mean that Rickman's reading improved this book (immensely), and she, by her own admission, would not have rated the book itself as highly if she had simply read it. So, unless a person listens to this version, the book itself could be a disappointment.

I have listened to terrible narrations, an audiobook version of Sense and Sensibility springs to mind. We turned it off after the first chapter. But, while I would give that audiobook 1-star, I would never give Austen's work the same rating.

I just think it's interesting that a great narration can lift a "not so great" read to a 5-star rating. So, the review is not entirely a review of Hardy's work on its own merits (which Kim clearly states).

message 8: by Jemidar (last edited Oct 07, 2011 07:51AM) (new) - added it

Jemidar I didn't think you were reflecting negatively on Kim at all :-).

It's just that when reviewing an audio book surely the narrator should figure highly in the review. ABs really are an entirely different beast to reading the book where it's just you and the words on the page, a whole lot of other stuff comes into play and the narrator is a big part of that.

And while I would never dream of rating JA's work so low, I wouldn't hesitate to rate a badly narrated book of her work low because it was a bad audio book. But you do need to explain in your review why you rated it the way you did, which is what Kim has done.

In ordinary books I think it's fair enough to mention formatting (e-books) and editing because, while they have nothing to do with the story itself, they can add to or subtract from your enjoyment of the book. As GR forces us to review certain editions, I think it's relevant to take these things into consideration as long as you explain that in your review.

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

I agree with every thing you're saying here, definitely. It's only misleading when you see that Hardy gets a 5 star rating, but it's really the performer that is pushing the rating that high, and not the book's content itself. She admitted she didn't like Hardy, but she loves Hardy as read by Rickman. So, I feel it's misleading in that she still does not love Hardy, but loves Rickman reading Hardy. So, at first glance a 5 star book, but in reality a 3-1/2 star book, with a 5 star audio performance. (When you read the entire review, all of this is apparent.)

message 10: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Ah, controversy. I love it! As I have reviewed the audiobook edition of this book, I really don't think that giving it a five star rating is misleading. The image for the book (if it's looked at closely) is the audiobook cover and it's been shelved as an audiobook, which is the first thing in the review under the title.

While I've said I'd give the book 4 stars or maybe 3 1/2 if I had read the text, that's just an impression. I can't really say, as I did not just read the text. Maybe one day I will and will be able to judge the novel from a different perspective.

As for not loving Hardy, at least as far as this novel is concerned, I now think that I do. While I would hesitate to pick up Tess again, that is likely to be because I lack sympathy for Tess as a character. Maybe I should give it another go, though. I might feel differently about Tess now. Eustacia Vye, the central character in this novel, is less sympathetic than Tess in some ways, and more in control of her own fate, but I did not lose sympathy for her. My more positive reaction to her might be because I am older and more tolerant of the stupid things people do!

And I actually want to re-read Jude The Obscure again, and try some of the novels I haven't read. A friend has also got me interested in Hardy's poetry, so I'm also going to give that a try. I see that there's an audiobook around of Richard Burton reading Hardy's poetry, so that might well be worth a listen!

I make a distinction between listening to an audiobook and reading a book. However, I don't think that listening is any way "less" of an experience than reading. And while a bad narrator may wreck a good book, a bad book does not turn into a good one by being well-narrated. I count audiobooks as books that I've read and have absolutely no hesitation in doing so. In fact, I'd find it difficult to live without them now. I can concentrate on them easily, but always in the context of doing something else, whether it's commuting (because reading text on the bus makes me feel sick and I mostly commute by bus), driving or cooking. I am the queen of multi-tasking, so I can't just sit and listen. Obviously, I can sit and read text, but then I'm holding a book, so I'm still doing two things at once!

message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Oct 07, 2011 02:20PM) (new)

Well, I didn't intend to be start a controversy. My point really was that maybe Hardy was better as a poet, than a storyteller. And, that Rickman bringing Hardy's descriptive passages to life, with his incredible voice talent, brought out the poetic nature of the book. Whereas, if Hardy's publishers and public demanded a satisfying end to the story, and Hardy wasn't a storyteller in the popular sense (well, as in having a real talent for telling a solid and convincing story), then having a superior narrator would lift a mundane story into the category of an excellent story.

I guess I'm trying to sort out why so many people loved Under the Greenwood Tree, claiming it this great love story. I didn't feel any sympathy or empathy towards the two main characters. I didn't feel the story was either realistic or romantic, especially the HEA ending. I feel Hardy excelled in his description of the place, and the time, and this may be what Rickman's reading brought out for you, the poetical side of a not-so-great story.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

And, now, to be a little controversial: I do believe that a so-so book can be made into a good one by a good narrator. A good narrator adds life to a book; that's what makes a good narrator good. I think you have to separate the narrator from the content, to judge the content, because the good narration changes the experience. Where I might struggle with a phrase in a book, and not get much meaning from it, a good narrator can make me hear the meaning I might miss. And a good narration can make a passage funnier or sadder than I might imagine it in my head, too.

message 13: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim I agree with you, Jeannette, if it's a so-so book. But if it's a bad book, then I don't think that it would be turned into a good one, even by Alan Rickman's voice! Mind you, I might be prepared to give one a go, just to listen to The Voice, but Rickman's excursions into narration are sadly very limited.

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Well, yes, it own works in the realm of mediocre. A bad book is a bad book.

I'm curious to see if Rickman really does make you a fan of Hardy's other works. I'm just too much of a literary light-weight, or I feel that way some days.....

message 15: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Jeannette wrote: "I'm curious to see if Rickman really does make you a fan of Hardy's other works...."

Me too! I'm going to experiment further with Hardy soonish, and I will be sure to let you know. :D

message 16: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "I found Hardy more digestible via audiobook as well - in my case, The Mayor of Casterbridge. I still think he's an author I have to be in a certain mood to want to read: like a grey Fe..."

Karla, I've never read The Mayor of Casterbridge and now I definitely want to give it a try. I know what you mean about having to be in the right mood for Hardy. The audiobook helped me to create the mood quite easily, even though it's spring where I am and I'm otherwise feeling quite cheerful! In future, I'm going to think of Hardy not as a gloomy novelist, but as a writer of tragedies. I love tragedy as a form of theatre, so there's no particular reason not to appreciate it just as much as a form of fiction. I just need to change the way I think about sad novels!

message 17: by Jemidar (last edited Oct 08, 2011 03:15AM) (new) - added it

Jemidar I rate The Mayor of Casterbridge right down there with Tess. If you ever feel like being bludgeoned to death, well this is the book. These two books turned me completely off Hardy as a novelist.

Jeanette, Hardy's books are somewhat different because he wrote them as serials in magazines, so he knew what his audience wanted before the books were finished, if that makes sense. Hardy was quite commercially driven when it came to his novels because they are what paid the rent and made his name. He was a Victorian celebrity chaser!

His poetry on the other hand is quite good. I studied a bit of it in 1st year uni, mainly the stuff he wrote about his wife after he she died which was rather touching but avoided being sentimental. (This being the woman he was so embarrassed by once he found fame, that he hid her in the country side while he hobnobbed in London. It also didn't stop him remarrying with unseemly haste. Hardy the man was a real charmer!!)

message 18: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Claire Tomalin has written a biography of Hardy. I liked her book about Austen. Maybe I should check it out. Have you seen it, J?

message 19: by Jemidar (new) - added it

Jemidar I've never really looked for a bio on Hardy, to be honest. Studying him at uni was enough for me. I didn't much like either his novels or him, so it didn't leave much. He did become rather eccentric in his old age and wouldn't trim the trees around his house so he lived in perpetual gloom and visitors also commented on how there were planks of wood connecting all the furniture for the cats to walk on.

I do believe his remarriage caused quite a scandal as she was either his wife's best friend or she had been living with them as housekeeper. I can't remember which now.

And yes, I liked Tomalin's bio of JA too :-).

message 20: by Kim (last edited Oct 08, 2011 03:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim From the little I've read, Hardy abandoned the first wife and later married his secretary, who was many, many years younger than him. However, afer his first wife died he became obsessed with her and a lot of his poetry is to her / about her. When I studied Hardy at uni, I don't recall being taught anything at all about his life. It seems to me that he must have suffered from depression. The main female character in this novel clearly does and his description of its effect on her is both well done and sympathetic.

message 21: by Jemidar (new) - added it

Jemidar I believe he didn't literally abandon his wife. She still lived in his house but they barely talked. The secretary must've lived there too. (I was almost right. LOL.) I just think our tutor had a thing for Hardy, she loved telling funny stories about him. He was a gloomy little man, that's for sure.

And yes, the poetry he wrote about his wife was beautiful. But I just couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that this poignant poetry came from the same man who had treated her so badly. He must've really suppressed his feelings for her or been feeling really guilty!.

message 22: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim I have to say, all of this makes me interested in reading more about him. Clearly, my tutor didn't have a thing for Hardy! However, while I will add it to Mt TBR, I don't think that a biography will be very high on the agenda ...

message 23: by Jemidar (new) - added it

Jemidar I have a lot of troubles with the private lives of Victorian men so avoid bios on them like the plague. HG Wells and Hardy pretty much top my list but the more I find out about Dickens, the less I like him too!

message 24: by Misfit (new)

Misfit Fascinating discussion and I'm very late to the party. I've not really tried audio books much, but I do agree they should be rated separately. I hear from more than one person that PG's repetitiveness is easier to stomach when on audio. It drives me nuts when Amazon combines print and audio versions.

I've read Tess (wah!) and Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude has been languishing on the pile somewhere. Your chat here inspired me to go to Amazon and see what's free on kindle. Picked up Return of the Native and Blue Eyes.

Agree about the abridged versions, and they can make quite a difference. With The Count of Monte Cristo the one to read is The Count of Monte Cristo with the Robin Buss translation - and with Dumas (as with other non-English writers) you do want to be cautious which translation you get is makes a whole bunch 'o' difference. If you aren't sure, those 1910 Collier editions have been a safe bet for me.

message 25: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Misfit wrote: "I've read Tess (wah!) and Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude has been languishing on the pile somewhere. Your chat here inspired me to go to Amazon and see what's free on kindle. Picked up Return of the Native and Blue Eyes. ..."

I'm going to steel myself to re-read Tess one of these years. Maybe on audio and definitely not for a while! It's possible that I was entranced by the audio of this novel because I find poetry easier to listen to than to read and Hardy's descriptions of people and places are very poetic.

Jemidar wrote: "I have a lot of troubles with the private lives of Victorian men so avoid bios on them like the plague. HG Wells and Hardy pretty much top my list but the more I find out about Dickens, the less I..."

In The Uncommon Reader Alan Bennett had his central character - that is, the Queen - hold a do to which a whole lot of writers were invited. On the whole, it was not a success. Bennett has the Queen think to herself:
“Authors, she soon decided, were probably best met within the pages of their novels, and were as much creatures of the reader's imagination as the characters in their books. Nor did they seem to think one had done them a kindness by reading their writings. Rather they had done one the kindness by writing them.”

Maybe this should extend to reading biographies of writers and not only to inviting them to parties!

message 26: by Jemidar (new) - added it

Jemidar I think you may be right. I tried reading a bio of Dennis Potter once and came away loathing the man, which was a shame because up until then I'd quite liked him.

message 27: by Tracey (new) - added it

Tracey I hated Tess - yep, in high school. But ... Alan Rickman? ("Alan Rickman. Singing. In French." !)I think I know where my next Audible credit is going.

message 28: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Tracey wrote: "I hated Tess - yep, in high school. But ... Alan Rickman? ("Alan Rickman. Singing. In French." !)I think I know where my next Audible credit is going."

It's funny, that hating Tess thing. I wonder if more women hate the book than men. I always wanted to slap a bit of sense into Tess and get her to stop being such a victim! My daughter had exactly the same reaction when she was in high school, but the boys in her class all fell in love with the character.

Rickman's singing is definitely worth the Audible credit. (He sings in English too!). However, I don't want to over-hype the book. I went into it as an experiment and with low expectations (except that I knew I would like listening to Rickman's voice) and enjoying the writing was a wonderful surprise.

message 29: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn Oh, Alan Rickman! Love his voice!!!

Great review!

message 30: by Alison (new)

Alison Smith I'd also pay good money to hear Alan Rickman read the bus timetable .....

message 31: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum Hi, Kim! I've finally got a bit of time to catch up on my Goodreads, and what do I, to my happy eyes, find right away but this review!
I disliked Tess, too, and so never bothered with anymore Hardy. I've always felt that if I want to be depressed, I can find better ways to get there than read an annoying, hopeless book. But, if we throw Alan Rickman into the equation, I might take a chance.
Just in case I don't find the audio book, does anybody have any feedback on which of Hardy's books are the least depressing? I mean, winter's coming on and I don't want to get too grey!

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

Under the Greenwood Tree wasn't really depressing.

message 33: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Karlyne wrote: "Hi, Kim! I've finally got a bit of time to catch up on my Goodreads, and what do I, to my happy eyes, find right away but this review!
I disliked Tess, too, and so never bothered with anymore Har..."

Yay, Karlyne! How great to see your post. I've missed you.

As you can tell from my review, I loved this book. It ends on a relatively upbeat note (even though this wasn't Hardy's first choice!), so you might not mind it. However, Rickman does improve the whole experience considerably. From what I understand, Under the Greenwood Tree is probably Hardy's most light-hearted book. I've not read it, but I intend to at some point soon-ish, probably also on audiobook. Sadly, Rickman hasn't seen fit to narrate any other of Hardy's books, otherwise I'd be listening to them one after the other, no matter how depressing!

Suzanne I'm ashamed to admit that I've just started. to read Hardy and I think he's great. I began with Casterbridge, followed by Tess , Jude and The Madding Crowd . I've just downloaded Native. I never read anything but his poetry until two weeks ago. maybe you(all) tried him when you were young. I'm a real fan now!

message 35: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Suzanne wrote: "I'm ashamed to admit that I've just started. to read Hardy and I think he's great. I began with Casterbridge, followed by Tess , Jude and The Madding Crowd . I've just downloaded Native. I never..."

Suzanne, I'm really glad that I didn't let my dislike of Tess as a character stop me from going back and tackling Hardy again. He is an amazing writer. I'm tossing up between reading Jude again (not immediately, but soonish) or reading something I haven't read before, such as The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Suzanne I love your review, but so far I hate the book. I'm reading after loving and almost devouring Tess, Casterbridge, Far From the Madding Crowd, and Jude.
I feel like I walked in the middle of a movie and then, after 40 minutes the film broke. In other words I don't know what's happening and I don't know the characters. I even went to Wikipedia to get a synopsis.
I guess this is why libraries have a lot of shelves.
P.S. your review is great, I just feel like I'm reading different books

message 37: by Kim (last edited Jul 22, 2012 04:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Suzanne wrote: "I love your review, but so far I hate the book...."

That's too bad, Suzanne. Sometimes books just don't click with particular readers, for whatever reason. Maybe it will grow on you, but if not, just let it go and don't worry about it. I certainly didn't think I'd like this one, but I fell in love with it. I've just started listening to an audiobook of The Mayor of Casterbridge, and I think I'm going to really like it too, although it may be a bit too early to tell.

message 38: by Jemidar (last edited Jul 22, 2012 04:30AM) (new) - added it

Jemidar My experience of reading Mayor was like banging my head against a brick wall; it felt good when I stopped.

message 39: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim LOL. You and Mr Hardy just don't get along!

message 40: by Jemidar (new) - added it

Jemidar :-D.

message 41: by Brett (new) - added it

Brett You know, I generally love Hardy, but I've never managed to get through "D'Urbervilles"

message 42: by Safa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Safa Fatima Really enjoyed your review..specially the analogy. :)

Hilary Wonderful review, Kim. I read and listened to Alan Rickman's narration. He was simply magnificent! Five ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ all round!!

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