Recent reading: The Mayor of Casterbridge

I have been a bit slack with reading in the last couple of weeks, and it’s largely due to this book. Not terribly long (372 pages of reasonably-sized print in the Penguin Popular Classics edition I read), yet not unlike a neutron star in its compacted heaviness. Well, OK, that’s overstating things, but yeah, Thomas Hardy, not the lightest touch in English literature. I started reading it nearly a month ago, read the first few chapters, put it down, and I read not one but two others books while summoning up the nerve to return to Hardy… I then read up to the end of part one rather slowly, then put it aside again, and haven’t looked near it for, oh, probably a fortnight, maybe longer (during which time I haven’t read anything else, though I have enough to be getting on with). I’ve been kind of afraid to. And not because I didn’t like it or anything, I actually do think it’s a really good book… it was just a matter of “god/dess, how much more spirit-crushing can I put up with?” Still, I’ve resolved, as part of this return to reading, to try not to abandon books and leave them unfinished once I’ve started (although, admittedly, I did just that recently with Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, which I just couldn’t tolerate), and as such I picked it up again this afternoon, determined to finish it (plus it’s due back at the library soon, so that spurred me on a bit), and reading the whole second half (180-odd pages) this afternoon. Which is ludicrous given how long the first half of the book took me. Like I said, it’s great stuff; the titular Mayor (well, one of them), Henchard, is a complex man who does a Very Bad Thing in chapter one, which then has repercussions through the whole novel, but Hardy obviously wants us to view him with sympathy; so many things are thrown in his way despite his attempts to atone for his past that you keep wanting to shout “GIVE THE BASTARD A BREAK, FOR FUCK’S SAKE”. I want to read more Hardy, but goddamn I need something lighter before I do that…

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