Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy


So, basically, since I read and LOVED Far From the Madding Crowd, I am officially no longer afraid of Thomas Hardy. And since Amanda from The Zen Leaf had told me a kazillion times that The Return of the Native was her favorite Hardy, and that there was a wonderful audiobook version narrated by . . . wait for it . . . ALAN RICKMAN (be still, my heart!) I gave it a try. (Also because it was one of a dozen or so books left on my Classics Club list.)

Seriously, Alan Rickman could read the telephone book and I would listen. In fact, the first chapter is kind of pastoral and descriptive, and nothing actually happens, but I just listened to his delicious voice read. Which was just fine.

Just an excuse to include a photo of Alan Rickman. 
But I digress. This is one of Hardy's earliest novels, and it's essentially a love quadrangle about three men and two women and who's going to end up with whom, and how many lives are messed up in the interim. Or, as Amanda put it so succinctly, "an 1800s soap opera set on Egdon Heath." Let's see. Thomasin Yeobright is about to marry Damon Wildeve, but due to a problem with the marriage license, the wedding doesn't go through as planned and she's horribly embarrassed. And her aunt objected to the marriage anyway. Then Damon is having second thoughts, because his old flame Eustacia Vye cannot stand being second fiddle to anyone, so she's trying to get her hooks back into him, and he's waffling. Meanwhile, Diggory Venn in love with Thomasin, and tells her aunt he still wants to marry her, even though she turned him down a couple of years ago.

And here comes Clym Yeobright, Thomasin's cousin. He had a good job in Paris but has given it up and now Eustacia thinks she might go after him instead because he's sophisticated and lived in Paris. She wants out of Egdon pretty badly. Basically, Eustacia is an 1840s Scarlett O'Hara, but more selfish, if you can imagine, and not so much willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the farm. Meanwhile, Diggory Venn is waiting and watching everyone. He is the moral center of the book.

Cover of the BBC Audiobook to which I listened.
No turkeys were harmed during the listening of this audiobook.
(And not a single turkey is mentioned in the book, but, whatever, BBC Audio!)
Meanwhile, there is are a bunch of side characters who are alternately rustic, amusing, and just as dumb as soup. They exist for comic relief, and some parts of this book are just laugh-out-loud funny. Some parts made me yell at the audiobook (in the car, which is a good thing -- very embarrassing otherwise!) -- and some parts are slightly ridiculous. But Hardy really is an amazing writer, with great character development and amazing descriptions. If I had read the print book instead of listening to the awesomeness that is Alan Rickman, I would actually have found a brilliant and insightful example and included it.

Overall, I have to agree with Amanda -- it's really a great book, with some serious melodrama, though unlike Amanda, I absolutely disliked Eustacia and was waiting to see if she would get her comeuppance. I had some suspicions about how it would all shake out, and I was not disappointed, though there are some pretty good plot twists. I don't know if I liked this book quite as much as Far From the Madding Crowd, but I'm on a roll with Hardy and I have two of his shorter novels on the TBR shelf which I'd like to attempt this year: A Pair of Blue Eyes and Under the Greenwood Tree. Has anyone read either of them? Which do you recommend?

Unfortunately, I can't count this for the Back to the Classics Challenge since I finished it at the very end of 2015, but it's one more book crossed off on my Classics Club list! Only eleven books left!

17 comments:

  1. I finished reading Jude the Obscure last night. I read The Return of the Native several years ago, probably time to read it again.

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    1. I'm already planning to add Jude to my *next* Classics Club list!

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  2. I'm glad you liked it! I loved Far From the Madding Crowd too, though I admit not as much as this one, probably because I did have a love-hate relationship with Eustasia. Normally I hate her kind in books, but there was just something about her that made me connect with her at the same time.

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    1. I really liked Bathsheba -- much better than Tess or Eustacia. And I felt really felt sorry for Thomasin.

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  3. I can't wait to reread Return of the Native. I felt the same way after reading it that I was not afraid of Hardy anymore. His words about the setting were entrancing enough. And, yes! Eustace reminded me of Scarlet, or rather Scarlet reminded me of Eustace, since I read GWTW after Return of the Native.

    I will have to look into this audio version, too. I may like to listen to it read to me next time.

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    1. I've also heard that Scarlett may have been inspired by Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair.

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  4. Colonel Brandon! I started Under the Greenwood Tree but didn't get any further than part way through the first chapter which was a bit lame of me. I will try it again sometime as a friend recommended it & her recommendations have always been good.

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    1. Alan Rickman is just great! And I've heard good things about both the shorter Hardys.

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  5. You've just helped me choose my next Hardy. Thank you!

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    1. You're welcome! I hope you like it!

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  6. I love Hardy and my favorite is Far From the Madding Crowd. I know I read and loved Return of the Native but it's been a while. I think Alan Rickman reading would be a great way to revisit it. I've never read Under the Greenwood Tree but I own it and have seen a movie version of it. As I recall, I watched it because I was crushing on the main actor at the time.

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    1. I didn't know there was a movie version of Under the Greenwood Tree. There was a TV adaptation of Return of the Native starring Clive Owen and Catherine Zeta-Jones, which I think is brilliant casting. Unfortunately I don't think it's on DVD but it might be on YouTube somewhere.

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  7. I'm going to have to give Hardy another fair shot. I read Jude the Obscure several years ago and found it horribly depressing. It most likely wasn't the best intro-to-Hardy available. Of course, if Alan Rickman is reading it I could probably handle pretty much anything!

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    1. I haven't read Jude but I definitely want to read more Hardy this year. I really enjoyed Far From the Madding Crowd, much less depressing than Tess. Hardy's books almost always seems to end tragically.

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  8. I too am afraid of Hardy but now I know I should at least give him a try! I think my problem was/is that everyone told me to read Tess and it just seems SO depressing. I need a little bit of lightness in my Victorian reads (ala Dickens and Trollope).

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    1. I agree, there's sadness in Dickens but also usually some joy and comic relief. Trollope seems a little less tragic.

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  9. I read both A Pair of Blue Eyes and Under the Greenwood Tree. A Pair of Blue Eyes is actually not unlike Return of the Native, although the heroine of Blue Eyes is more likeable than Eustacia. Under the Greenwood Tree is strange. I quite liked the adaptation, the story is very light and fluffy for Hardy, but the book was much more about the rustic side characters than the main couple.

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