Book Review: Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Since starting my new job, I've been getting a bus from the train station to the office, and this has got me at least an extra 20 minutes a day to spend on reading (on top of reading for at least another 10 minutes each way on the train and a chapter before bed). As a result, it's meant I'm getting through books a lot quicker, and so I was surprised to find myself having raced through Tess of the D'Urbervilles this month.

Set in Wessex amidst a landscape familiar to anyone with a knowledge of Thomas Hardy's books (the town of Casterbridge gets mentioned a lot), the eponymous Tess Durbeyfield is a simple country girl whose father finds out he is descended from an ancient line of aristocrats, the D'Urbervilles. Her family packs her off to wealthy relatives with the hopes that marriage will restore them to their former glory, but Tess falls victim to the charms of the wily Alec D'Urberville and returns home in disgrace. When she meets parson's son Angel Clare and falls in love with him, the past comes back to haunt her...

I have to admit I came to Tess with some trepidation, because it is referenced a lot in Fifty Shades of Grey (Yes, I read it. I was curious. What?) and I was a bit worried that I wouldn't enjoy it because I had that in the back of my mind. I'd also heard that it was a bit rubbish. But I took the plunge and decided to give it a go. And I have to say it wasn't that bad. True, the plot was fairly predictable (although I admit I knew most of the story beforehand so that probably didn't help) and although I'm fully aware it was a product of the time, Angel's hypocritical attitude really jarred with me. I also didn't feel like I identified much with the character of Tess; for all I'd heard about her being a firebrand she actually seemed quite passive, with only the occasional flash of anger to justify that reputation, though again I'm aware that is partly a cultural difference. Finally, the ending fell a little bit flat and felt rushed to me.

So, for all that, why didn't I mind it? The main reason was that it was a surprisingly easy read, and that despite the characters being a little bit two-dimensional they were equally very believable, especially the supporting characters such as Tess' parents. Plus I also really love the way Hardy evokes the Wessex countryside; it's a cliche to say this, but it really does feel like you're right there in Tess' world, and in my book being able to create that rich world for your characters can go a long way.

Overall, if you can get over the hump of the slightly simplistic story and the slight lack of dimension to the characters (which again I think is largely due to cultural differences) then it's definitely worth a read, if only for the beautiful portrayal of the landscape and the fact that the story's well-paced and moves along rapidly. If you like your classic novels easy to read and with a bit of romance and drama, then I'd say Tess is worth a go.

Next up for What I Read: Dark Fire, the second book in the Tudor-set Shardlake series by CJ Sansom. I read the first one, Dissolution, a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, so I've got high hopes for this one as I love a good historical mystery. After that, it'll be another classic, but I'm not quite sure what yet - maybe Madame Bovary, or some Dickens.

Have you read Tess of the D'Urbervilles or any other Thomas Hardy books? What did you think of them? And what's your favourite classic novel setting? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

No comments:

Post a Comment